The Navy SEALS approached the Bandito Brothers film-makers about telling their story, years before they became headline heroes by finding and killing Osama Bin Laden. After spending time with the SEALS and learning about their extraordinary missions and their extraordinary devotion to their families, their country, and each other, it became clear that even the biggest stars in Hollywood could never do them justice. And so they made “Act of Valor,” a thrilling action/adventure film starring active duty U.S. Navy SEALS re-enacting some of their most dangerous missions, with live ammunition. Every person in uniform you see in the film is currently serving in the U.S. military. More than once, shooting had to shut down so that the SEALS could get back to work.
The story is pure fiction but the situations are real and the filming includes footage of training missions with live ammunition. According to the story, a CIA agent has been kidnapped and is being tortured. Terrorists are trying to enter the United States to detonate suicide bombings that will murder thousands of civilians. The SEALS get little notice and less background briefing and they have to save the day, using a combination of the most cutting edge technology in weapons and communication and the oldest and most basic forms of technology (hand-to-hand combat) and communication (hand signals and just knowing each other and the mission objectives). Most of all, they rely on training, integrity, and trust. What they don’t rely on is anything going as originally planned. In one exciting chase, the bad guys are closing in and shooting at them with automatic weapons and one of the SEALs has been critically injured. What is even more fascinating than the pulse-pounding action is the way the Seals keep adapting their escape plan and updating their team with remarkable economy and precision. “This will be a hot extract,” they say crisply into the walkie-talkies as they return fire. “Moving to tertiary extract,” they continue. All may be chaos around them, but you get the feeling that they could keep going with another 20 thought-through options for pick-up if the first 19 can not work. “Prepare for a bigger fight than you were expecting,” they are advised in one operation, but the SEALs are always ready. One of them quotes the moving words of the Native American leader Tecumseh that concludes, “When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”
The guys (their names are not used for security reasons) are not actors, but that just adds to to sense that we are watching a documentary, albeit a documentary that sometimes plays like a first-person shooter game. When we see the SEALs with their families and with each other, it is clear that there is not an actor in the world who could convey the humility and honor that is fundamental to their natures.
The storyline is thin and generic but there is plenty of drama in the operation of the missions, each like a movie of its own and well staged to make us feel at the center of the action. Country greats like Trace Adkins, Wynonna Judd, Sugarland, and Lady Antebellum provide a stirring soundtrack. We see operations on land, sea, and in the air. There are fights and shoot-outs but one of the most mesmerizing scenes is all talk as the master interrogator shows the master criminal just enough respect to keep him cooperating, making clear how much power he has over the other man’s life to make that cooperation meaningful. “I’d rather bring a gun to a knife fight than be interrogated by him,” one of the Seals says proudly. The support of their families and, at least in one case, a family history of sacrifice creates a clarity of priorities that creates a context for excellence. In a world where ambiguity and partisanship make it hard to find heroes, the biggest thrills in this film come not from the shoot-outs but from seeing real-life commitment, courage, and what valor truly means.
Parents should know that this film features active duty Navy Seals re-enacting some of their most dangerous missions using live ammunition. It includes constant peril and violence with guns, hand-to-hand combat, and explosions, with many characters injured and killed. Graphic and disturbing scenes include the torture of a female spy. It also has some strong language and some social drinking.
Family discussion: Why was it so important to resolve issues at home before leaving on a mission? How do the Seals support each other? How many different ways do they have to communicate? How does clarity of the mission objectives direct their evaluation of their options?
If you like this, try: “The Dirty Dozen” and “Navy Seals: Untold Stories”