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ACT OF VALOR

"In valor, there is hope."

 
(24 Feb 2012)  Directors Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh

Writer Kurt Johnstad
 

Before I saw the movie, I saw—here and there on the web—people criticizing the acting of the SEALs, but think about it, if they were slick or perfect, it would have seemed false. The fact that they came across as regular guys (well, you know what I mean: super-skilled bad-ass regular guys) drove home the fact that they are real (active duty!) SEALs. The whole time I kept thinking they really did these things, and that was the key to why it worked! That and all the amazing kick-ass Action—It delivered in that department, plus it also worked as a movie.

"US AND THOSE LIKE US"
I thought it was very well written.  I really liked the intro: "You live your life by a code . . . It's your shoreline; it's what guides you home . . .."

Structurally, some time was spent showing us their personal lives and the bond they have, and then they introduced their leader. That was all necessary to make us care about them and to understand their sacrifice. Their putting their lives on the line became real. Imagine if you went to work each day and didn't know whether you'd come home again.  The Writer / Directors / Editors knew just what to keep and what to leave out. Not once did I think they could have left something out, if anything, they fast forwarded at times to increase the excitement, taking us along for the ride, and it was exhilarating!  The plot of the movie was easy to follow. They tied a succession of operations together in a all-too-believable story line. From saving one hostage, it grew into a mission whose success would save the lives of thousands.

The first words on screen were "This film is based on real acts of valor" and it surely is a study in Courage.  Right away, we 'jump in' with the military lingo. They didn't explain it, they just used it. You figured it out. 
 

"DAMN FEW."
According to Wikipedia, SEALs (stands for Sea, Air, and Land Teams) undergo 30 months of training before their first deployment, and the BUD classes (Basic Underwater Demolition) have a 90% drop-out rate! The first thing they show the SEALs do is a training jump from a plane so high, they need breathing masks.   Later, on another high-altitude jump it's at night and pitch black, yet they land with accuracy and proceed like they just got dropped on the corner by a bus (only quieter).  I know we've seen actors jump out of planes before (or stunt doubles), but knowing these are real men who have done everything you see really drove home the risk factor.  The audience was so tense at times, it felt like we were collectively holding our breath.

Seeing how they're dressed, the camouflage, the weaponry, the various roles they play, and the equipment and vehicles they used was impressive! Beginning with these flat black (guessing on the model number)
MH-47G Chinook transport helicopters:


 

  1


These Chinooks can carry a 30-foot boat, fully loaded! We take so much for granted in movie making, especially with CGI. To see this real equipment with fresh eyes and marvel at the practical application was great.  The tandem rotors each have a 60-foot span! The helicopters are almost 100 feet long and can travel nearly 200 mph. Is that a refueling stick up front? The whole thing looks seriously scary!
2 

On the first operation to extract the hostage, two Chinooks bring back-up troops who repel down into boats and then the choppers gently lower the boats onto the water. The hoists are dropped and off they go. These boats, SOC-Rs (Special Operations Craft-Riverine), are a no-bullshit shell of firepower.3  I marveled at how they must have to plan the timing on these operations really well because after they get dropped, they are hell-bent to a rendezvous point.  It was also clear they make a Plan B, and a Plan C, etc. This movie really drove home the word HOT in "hot extraction" when things go south and they have to get the hell out. 

ALERT! SPOILERS BELOW

THE GNARLY KILL
Even though they showed most of this kill on the trailer, I didn't realize until I saw the whole thing in context how fucking bad ass it was.  You know the one I mean, the first kill in the "personnel extraction" when the sniper takes out the enemy sentry on the dock who then falls back into the water but one of the SEALs is there, under the water, hands above the surface to stop his fall so he doesn't make a splash . . . then the SEAL just slowly lowers the dead body into the river.  Aaaah, badassery; it's what we live for! 


Act of Valor hands underwater to catch body

The Sniper is a key player in everything they do.  The enemy is marked for death before the assault begins and you're just waiting for the when. The how is already determined.  It was very impressive how accurate the shooting was (by everybody) and it only got more and more impressive.  They all stand and shoot, or walk and shoot, with accuracy, and without much ducking or flinching.  They shoot and just keep coming. It's the way you have to be in a video game. If you waste time with fear something gets you faster than if you're balls-out accurate. There's a sick number of single kill shots to the head, especially on the island raid off the coast of Mexico. It's worth seeing the movie again just to count them [ ____ so gonna do that!].


"PERSONNEL EXTRACTION"

Action Movie Freaks have been waiting for this movie since
Predator!  It's all there:
• The lingo "We have you Lima Charlie", "4.7 clicks at 3-5-5", "15 Mike", "Enemy QRF at 8 clicks" (Quick Reaction Force), translation:  get the hell out! 
The hand signals (masks on) (wrist karate chop) (two-finger circle) ;
• The camaraderie;
• The big dog;
• The weapons and machines; and
• Everything having a codename: "Whiplash" for the boat teams, "Raven" is the surveillance 'bird', "Blackbeard"  for the SEAL team (Actual and Main). 

I bet I know what got you to see this movie, in particular, from the trailer.  The SEAL who is crouched in the back of the truck, who ducks, gets shot at, and then rises and turns to shoot back, on one knee (!), other foot bracing him, gun ready and steady.  When you saw it, you had no idea of its place in the movie nor how it would end.  The first extraction mission really sets the tone.  The adrenaline rush of entering the building, the shootout and takeover, the rescue, the impending arrival of more armed enemies, the chase, blowing up an enemy truck in pursuit, the truck hitting the water ("Splash it!"), and the Whiplash boats arriving at exactly the right moment and unleashing hell.  Talk about laying down a suppressing fire! The sound of the guns firing rounds that quickly was so impressive, reactions from the audience were audible. A non-stop stream of empty shell casings just poured out.  The aerial shot showing the muzzle flashes was like pure domination!

Rounds from the gun boats blow up two more trucks and the enemy is completely pinned down behind a third. The SEAL team gets on board the rescue boats easily, and then they take off . . . FAST! . . . and the rear boat keep firing for coverIt's a "Holy Mother of God!" moment and they build to it SO WELL! (That's Dave by the way in the back of the truck.)

Act of Valor shooting from the back of the truck


"SOME HIGH-SPEED SHIT"

As they go from one operation to another, and the Action gets better and better, the tension builds because we know what they are trying to stop from happening—it becomes a race against time.  The surveillance of the cargo planes that land in the desert to exchange the explosive vests is interesting. They have a
Grumman HU-16 Albatross  and a Douglas DC-3.4  When they meet up with a submarine, the aerial is awe inspiring. You should see the movie just for that!

There were assets available, but we didn’t own them. The submarine was on the surface for less than 45 minutes. Instead of blocking it scene to scene, we had to run it like an operation. We were in the middle of the action, in full body armor, doing camera work. My partner was in the helicopter doing aerial shots. I was in full camouflage on board a platoon boat with the SEALs, so I didn’t stand out. They were using live ammunition. It tested us physically and mentally, and brought in our skills as stuntmen.”  [That's right, the Directors are stuntmen!]

-Mike McCoy

When they overtake "Christo" (one of the villains) on his yacht, the procedure is a multiple-method assault involving an explosion (I think they blow up one of 2 boats guarding the yacht), a Mark V (pictured below), another boat, a helicopter with SEALs who repel onto the yacht, as well as some who are underwater(?!).  One of the guard boats flees, and the SEALs chase him and gun him down (he shoots first). He's left to drift as they return to the main boat.  The men secure Christo before "Senior" the interrogator even gets off the helicopter, dressed in a suit! (It's covered by a jumpsuit but how bad ass to appear before a captive, on their freshly captured territory, dressed to the teeth.)
 

"HOW THE WORLD REALLY WORKS"
Although the psycho temper tantrum of the villain "Shabal" also goes a long way to making us want the SEALs to succeed, the interrogation scene is the (dramatic) making of the movie. It's part performance, and part message.  How Senior handles Christo, how he pretends not to know the answers and then reveals that he knows even more, and especially, how little he lets Christo say before pulling the rug out from under him. "Shit filter's full" was priceless!  The Senior Chief was in charge every minute. "Let me tell you how the world really works" really cuts to the chase. In this chase there is no time to waste and Christo is forced to give them the information he knows. Maybe they didn't know specifically about the 16 explosive ceramic ball-bearing vests, but they had already counted the Filipinos (praying as Muslims) in the desert, and knew there were explosives involved.
5  Senior doesn't let Christo know the SEALs are already en route to the exact location in Mexico.

The uniqueness of this movie and how it was filmed is a marker in Action Movie history. Maybe our 'shit filter' is full on fakeness.  You can only CGI us so much, then we get bored. We want relatability. We want Heroes. Sylvester Stallone's "Inferno: The Making of The Expendables" explains a great many things about Action Movies really well, but, especially, what it means to be a Hero, and the place of Action Movies in our culture.

"By the time I was 12 years old I really didn't have any role models, I didn't have any Heroes, I didn't have anyone I really looked up to. One afternoon I skipped school  and I went to see a film, and the film was "Hercules", and my life changed drastically from that point.  You would have these men trying to overcome incredible odds, even at the risk of their own life, as a matter of fact, they would willfully give their life for a higher ideal. And, that kind of philosophy has followed me throughout my entire life.  Action Films, to me, are a throwback to ancient mythology.   And every culture has these stories, and they are an integral part of the tapestry of those cultures. So, what has been going on for thousands of years of people telling these incredible stories around their campfires and passing them on through word of mouth, through books, through tablets, through cave drawings, what we do today in modern cinema is just try to recapture that feeling using modern techniques, but the original idea is still the same:  Heroes overcoming incredible odds to make the world a better place. Men overcoming evil even at the cost of the Hero's life."

It is so on point, it could have been said about this movie. I feel like audiences are not only hungry for Heroes (like the awesome 80s Action Movie classics) but also hungry for the real deal when it comes to stunt work.  This was proven when they had to get a more believable Bond and the opener was a free-running scene. But, with the use of real soldiers instead of actors, it opens the gates to use stuntmen.  If Hollywood's focus is only on those who talk the talk, but they won't recognize those who walk the walk, then it's time for someone to do both.  Since actors can't be stuntmen, let stuntmen act. 

 

LIVE BY THE CODE, DIE BY THE CODE
Lt. Rorke is nearly killed three times. When the fourth thing happens (a grenade is thrown), he reacts to protect the others, especially Dave. It's reaction more than decision. The Code is who you are. What I loved most about this movie is that it's a GREAT BIG REMINDER that we have values worth protecting, worth losing (or giving) our lives for. As the movie puts it "What do you fight for?" and  "If you're not ready to give up everything, you've already lost."

It's such a good movie on every level. I even love the music. I saw it three times and I'll go at least once more. I hope we see more of this kind of Action Movie. There is no substitute for the real thing.

If you can't get enough of it, here's a video showing some of the weapons used:

 



In valor, there is hope for women too..

Applying RADICAL FEMINISM to "VALOR"
I love this movie and I love the idea of Valor. However, while men are the only ones who can be SEALS, men are not the only ones who can be valorous. Valor is defined as:

Val·or [val-er] noun: 
boldness or determination in facing great danger, especially in battle; heroic courage; bravery.

Women throughout history have performed acts of valor, beginning with Eve. As a radical feminist I believe women are people first, and should act and be be treated as such.

 What I fight for is Equality.
 

BEING "DOWNRANGE"
Equality for Women matters to me is because violence against women is epidemic. I feel women have been 'downrange' almost our whole existence and I believe Women will not get equality until they are willing to literally fight for it. Physical strength is the only thing that men who prey on women understand.  I say fight back. We teach our sons to defend themselves, why not our daughters? They are in greater peril.  Young women need strong role models to emulate—truly strong female characters in movies, and in real life, who do not allow themselves to be objectified as male fantasies.  Objectification cancels out our power. To strong women in positions of influence I ask: Don't participate in allowing anyone to objectify you when you play a strong role!  And don't participate in real life.  It only helps to put other young women "downrange".

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1  The photo of the 2 Chinooks was taken by DVIDS/ Sgt. Daniel P. Shook from a National Geographic article Photo Gallery: The Last Days of Osama bin Laden.

"Two MH-47 Chinook helicopters land before being boarded by Afghan Commandos, with the Afghan National Army's 3rd Commando Kandak, and U.S. Navy SEALs, with Special Operations Task Force - South, en route to a village-clearing operation in Shah Wali Kot District, June 20, Kandahar province, Afghanistan.

Schoolbus-size Chinook helicopters like this served as backup to the Navy SEAL Team 6 strike team on the night of the bin Laden mission. The Chinooks landed roughly two-thirds of the way to the compound with two dozen SEALs on board to help respond if the SEALs who went forward were attacked."

2  On a personal note, I once had a close encounter with a UH-60 Black Hawk> at night. We could hear it coming but we couldn't see it at all. Not even with a full moon. It got within 50 feet of us but until they turned on a light in the cabin, it was invisible. SO COOL!

3  Read more about their features at ShadowSpear.com.

4  How this scene was filmed is really interesting.  [It makes up for Indiana Jones swimming to the Nazi sub and somehow sneaking on board (unexplained) LOL.]

5  On another purely personal note, I loved seeing the two planes in the desert. The larger, an unpainted Douglas DC-3, was the plane that used to fly to the out islands of the Bahamas. I always thought how funny it was to have to walk the aisle at an upward slant (it didn't level off until it was in the air). It wasn't any easier for the goats in the aisles, either.

The smaller plane (a seaplane) the
Grumman HU-16 Albatross, was used by Chalk's International Airlines (they had to be converted to G-111s). Chalk's flew seaplanes regularly from Watson Island [between Miami and Miami Beach across from where the cruise ships enter and dock—they call it "Government Cut") to Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas], until 9/11. Then they were re-located because they were too close to the Port of Miami.  I flew one and it was the noisiest ride (on a level with an airboat) I have even been on. There are still some in service today. This from Wikipedia: The common saying among aviation buffs and pilots is that "the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3." The aircraft's legendary ruggedness is enshrined in the lighthearted description of the DC-3 as "a collection of parts flying in loose formation."[11] Its ability to take off and land on grass or dirt runways makes it popular in developing countries, where runways are not always paved.