Act of Valor Review: A Warrior Manifesto that Rejects Your Pity

Act of Valor Review: A Warrior Manifesto that Rejects Your Pity February 24, 2012

The problem is not with the new “Act of Valor” movie that opens today. It’s a rousing manifesto. The problem is with some players in Hollywood and a segment of the American public who consider modern American soldiers something to be pitied rather than admired.

They respect the soldier in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Global War on Terror, just not what they do. There is an unspoken feeling that the American troops have been duped into something unsavory, as if looking for a better life or free education, they signed up and found themselves in an icky – if not downright dishonorable – war.

In “Act of Valor,” the soldiers speak for themselves and their message is loud and clear: We know exactly what we are doing. We consider it worthwhile. We consider it an honor.

Filmed over two and a half years during live-ammunition training missions with real, active-duty Navy SEALs, the film is pulse-pounding, exciting, and what we call bad-a&&, but it is also a rejection of and answer to the above attitude.

It begins with a letter written to the son of a soldier articulating the SEAL’s code of honor. Nothing about the code is ambivalent or apologetic. To be dangerous is sacred. To be strong and kill those who would hurt your family or the family of other Americans is heroic. They are the “damn few” who stand between us and violence.

Their first assignment – to rescue a CIA operative who has been captured by a mobster with terrorist ties – goes off with guns blazing. The thugs guarding the compound never see them coming. First, the SEALs parachute in, hitting their target with precision, then making almost no sound, they approach. They pick off the defenders silently, in one case – rising soundlessly from the water to catch a falling body just before it can make a splash. Once engaged in a gunbattle, they don’t hold back. Finally, with the wounded operative in tow, they speed toward their extraction point, pursued hotly. The enemies of America are met on a river bank by several boats of soldiers, guns blazing, lighting up the forest.


No one stops to emote over the fallen thugs who ambushed one CIA agent and used a power drill on the other.

Soon, information from the agent leads them to a global terror plot against American cities. They track elements all over the world, from Africa to Eastern Europe to Mexico.  We’re treated to some unbelievably cool action sequences: helicopters dropping boats full of men into the water, submarines rising for mere minutes before diving again, chases through South American slums.

There are some bad guys in the world.

The scary part of the movie? The bad guys are even badder, smarter, and more determined than depicted in the film. As the plot begins to unfold, it’s tempting to think it’s farfetched, that no one would put that level of resources or intelligence into killing Americans.

Then you think of how intricate and carefully plotted 9/11 was, and you feel a shiver of fear up the spine.

It’s even more tempting to think that the valor of the SEALs is exaggerated, until you remember things like the pirate hostage rescue or elimination of Osama Bin Laden. The directors assure us that the incredible, macho things shown, especially at the satisfying ending of the movie, are real, recorded acts of valor. They did not make it up.

It is true there are some weaknesses in the film. Navy ships and planes always seem to be in a perpetual sunset, like a postcard. The SEALs do a fantastic job of acting – for people who shoot guns for a living instead of reading lines – but there are times you’re painfully aware they’re not actors.

Critics have accused the film of being too much action and not enough character development. I take this to mean that critics would prefer the men anguished over their jobs and had some sort of crisis of conviction. This they do not do. The more cynical among us have a hard time believing that the soldiers, in their heart of hearts, believe in what they’re doing and in the code of honor they so effectively express. It’s a tough job, undeniably, but I’m guessing there is nothing more, nothing hidden, no inexpressible angst or existential horror.

Instead – and this is probably the thing to which certain segments object most – it makes you proud. Proud of the sacrifice and courage of our troops. Proud of America.

The film ends, as we knew from the beginning it would, with a military funeral. It ends with honor and patriotism. The credits do not list the names of the men shown in the film, but honor the 60 Navy SEALs lost in combat since 9/11.

We have no idea what they’ve done for us.

It’s time to stop pitying them and time to get behind them.


The film is rated R for realistic violence and some language. No nudity or sexuality.

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45 responses to “Act of Valor Review: A Warrior Manifesto that Rejects Your Pity”

  1. Thank you for the review. I saw the link from and was pleased to see someone view the movie outside of a narrow Hollywood standpoint. As an OEF veteran, I’ve been telling people until I turn blue in the face that we aren’t to be pitied. We know what we signed up for, we are proud of our service, and we take things in stride. Most of us signed up knowing we were going to war and many others signed up partly because of inspiration from movies like this one.

  2. Great reveiw here. I could not agree more, that this movie is not to get people crying and feeling pitty for ANY form of servicemember. Rather to promote a little bit of pride and sense of drive, desire and moreover MOTIVATION! Silent professionals are called that for a reason…. There is no need to speak of issues that are being done voulintary. So it is a change to see a little spotlight placed on the SOF community. Just not too much light….; )

  3. Great review! The crew over at Ranger Up said you did good, and I have to agree. Thank you for an honest take on a movie that, I’m sure, pissed off a lot of Hollywood types.

  4. Awesome review. Totally agree with Rebecca. Hollyweird wants us to believe the line that we are all poor bastards who got dooped in. I want to protect and help those that are not able to on there own. It’s up to our citizens at home to make sure we go in for the right cause. Moral courage is lost too much. We live in the United States of Amnesia. Just because things get ugly don’t turn and leave us. Stick with us cause we going to sick it out for you.

  5. Great review. I have tickets for tonight, I can’t wait. Got this link from Ranger Up, all the other reviews I read were from people like Roger Ebert. Oh yeah, he’s real objective, huh? Thanks to all our servicemen and women, God bless you all.

  6. Wonderful review, I would definitely be watching it however I’m currently deployed, but like you mentioned, we knew what we were signing up for. Ranger Up sent me and I’m glad I came.

  7. Thanks for the honest and refreshing take on a military movie! And you could not have said it any better, they are not to be pitied they should be appreciated! Ranger Up sent me and I am glad they did! Thank you for your intelligent review!

  8. I was referred to your review from Ranger Up and I am so glad I followed their link. I think your points on what others think of why these Seals and most people in the military do what they do is spot on! I have tickets for tonight and I cannot wait to see it. Thanks for such an insightful review Rebecca.


  9. Thanks for the open and honest review. Quite refreshing your perspective from a 10 year United States Marine Corps Sergeant. Ranger Up sent me and I’m glad I came.

  10. Outstanding review and finally, someone that gets it. I guess there wasn’t enough obligatory crying for some other critics? Ranger Up sent me.

  11. I am ecstatic that a civilian gets that we don’t want pity and that giving us pity is actually disrespectful. We know what we are/were doing when we signed up. I signed up before 9-11 wanting to help defend this country knowing something bad could happen and was glad I was one of the first to respond to these events. I don’t want pity, I don’t expect free things, I just want you to say thank-you with respect for the knowledge that I sacrificed willingly and knowingly. Ranger the Hell Up (who, by the way, sent this to me) and Semper Fidelis!!!

  12. Ranger Up sent me and I’m glad I came. I hadn’t originally had plans to see this movie, but after reading your review, I think I should get out to the theater.

    I’ve been on active duty in the Army for the past 14 years, and I, and the vast majority of my comrades-in-arms, don’t need anyone to feel sorry for us either!

  13. I agree with you about most folks seem to pitty our Troops rather than admire. Thanks for your support and the review. As a Veteran, its always nice to see good people saying good things about the Armed Forces… and the job we/they do. Ranger Up sent us.
    Thank you.
    Owner / Director of Training
    Lone Star Medics

  14. Referred by Ranger Up. I had planned on seeing the movie since I first read about it. I really can’t believe that someone would react to this movie with pity. Our men and women in uniform are worthy of respect and admiration. The real pity is that there are not more like them. From a non veteran, thank you to all who serve and their families.

    Respectfully Submitted;
    D Resser

  15. I loved your review! My husband and I are going to see it this weekend. BTW: You hit the nail on the head concerning the attitude of our troops. (Rangerup sent me)

  16. Hey, listen. I think the writer here is on to something! I’d like to remind everyone that there are several levels of enlisted and professional warriors behind these ranks….we are still all an ALL VOLUNTEER Force. We neither like the spotlight nor care to be under it, but when a job needs to be done, there will be those Brave Warriors that rise up and say “Send Me”. I was merely a low-tier warfighter and I spent 27 months on active duty with an Infantry company in Iraq….nobody asked me to go, nobody told me to volunteer but like I say, there is a time in a young man’s life where he must choose to defend the things he believes in. Too many people in this country take our young warriors for granted and having been deployed with some of the best Men I have ever met in my life was an HONOR! Not a day goes by that I do not think myself grateful and blessed to have met some of my Army Brothers. Also, Not a day goes by that I am not humbled by the great sacrifices and terrible things that our Men on distant Battlefields experience! But I don’t ever feel sorry for them, because as War fighters we chose that life style. Nobody who dedicates years of his life to training and perfecting his skill sets on the battlefield is just a Soldier, Marine, Airman, Seaman. Those of us who chose that path and raised our right hand and swore an oath knew or had to be conscious of the possible danger involved! Our Professional Troops are better trained and better equipped than ever in the history of this great Nation and You would be doing a disservice to our Nation by feeling sorry for them or pity! Instead they should bring a feeling of Pride and Humility for all that they sacrifice for our safety and our freedoms. God Bless all our Operators , Grunts and Troopers without whom the wolves would hunt us down freely….

    (In case U were planning on purchasing tickets there is a very good reason to order from as they are accepting donations to benefit the personnel depicted in this motion picture and their Families, please make sure to donate what U can.)

    Buy your tickets today and make a donation to benefit the Navy SEAL Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing immediate and ongoing support and assistance to the Naval Special Warfare community, active-duty personnel and their families.

  17. The whole “pity the soldiers” thing comes from the fact that the Iraq war was based on total bullshit. That was pretty much it. People generally supported the Afghanistan war until now because of 9/11 and all that but now they’ve lost motivation for the war because Bin laden is dead, nothing’s really happening in that country anymore that can be fixed without a shit ton of money, material and time(like a century of social engineering), and because they realized that a Cold War army camping out in a single country doesn’t really hurt a non-state actor. I’m sure they’re all right with counterterrorism (minus the whole spying on everything that moves stuff) though.

    It was an all right movie. It’s basically a compilation of the work that’s been done in this genre over the last ten years starting with Black Hawk Down. The SEALS act well when they’re doing their thing but they can’t act worth a damn when they try to do sentimental scenes which was expected. They sent actors to Basic when they wanted them to play soldier in Band of Brothers but they didn’t send soldiers to acting school when they wanted them to be actors. Not their fault of course, the director really should have put them through a class or two.

    The plot is the kind of stuff you saw in the 90’s- some dude wants to blow some shit up, for reasons that are boiled down to two sentences, and supposedly the way he’s going to do it involves some kind of super-devastating technology even though it’s basically just a more efficient version of the BS that butchers 20 people a day in Baghdad. So it’s a “day in the life of” kind of thing, but unlike the 90s films at least this one doesn’t pretend that there’ll be No More Terrorism after all the explosives get exploded safely away from their intended targets.

    Making the main villain a Chechnyan was weird because Chechnyans would logically be more pissed about Russian atrocities in Chechnya than the US’s willingness to let them happen. His motivation was absolutely terrible. Why would a Chechnyan spend more energy punishing the US for passivity than just continuing to revenge-kill the shit out of the Russians, who, you know, *actually did* fire rockets into their villages and tortured the hell out of ordinary people? The director had plenty of other options, why Chechnyan?
    (well I’ve got an idea but I’m not gonna say it.)

    The “subtle” political commentary was hilarious. A bunch of Filipinos infiltrating the US through the Mexican border? Even though the Mexican Army is screwing the cartels up there and the Canadian border is waaaaay bigger and has a HUGE smuggling problem? They weren’t even trying to hide the politics. The Call of Duty-esque camerawork was a blatant pitch to teenagers- WHEEE, WAR IS LIKE A VIDEOGAME!

    I mean, it’s an action movie first and foremost so the fighting is entertaining. But a thinking man’s movie it’s not and never was intended to be. The SEALs put on a great show and are good at what they do. Yeah, some scenes were definitely based on real events that were explained in Medal commendation papers but characters and the plot were full of cliches.
    They introduced maybe five SEALs and I barely remembered anything about three of them because they spent most of their time on the LT and his right hand man, and even then I still don’t remember anything about either except what their faces looked like and the fact that one of them was an expectant father. That director’s gotta work on fleshing out this stuff. He tried to get away with characterization by having a couple scenes of guys having fun with their kids but since we barely got to see most of them talk before the shooting started it didn’t work. All I can remember is that there’s two dudes who talk a lot to just each other, there’s a bearded guy who gets a couple good scenes, some dude with a patch eye, a black guy and maybe one other dude. I don’t know.

    Whatever. I wanted explosions and I got explosions. I’m not sure if it stands up as a tribute to the SEALs- if I wanted to do that I would have spent more time on the letter narrations and the characterization and less time on the shooting. Less “oh no complicated terrorist plot” and more “hey let’s get to know these guys before they get blasted n’ stuff.” So basically closer to Thin Red Line than Transformers.

    In two words: Not bad.

  18. Great movie. I think it’s being overanalyzed. It’s an action flick. Kill the bag guys. It also served as a tribute to guys who have risked it all and gave it all for their country. Hollywood hates it because the SEALS were not actors. Their acting was not the greatest but I have seen worse from real actors. Hollywood also hates it because it does not portray soldiers as mentally and emotionally unstable losers who would have to be unbalanced or engaged in substance abuse to be in the military. You can’t have men that are normal and also be in the military serving their country with honor. Ignore the Hollywood elite and go see the film. Not off the scale great but you will not leave thinking you should have rented it.

  19. Getting behind them means also looking after their earned benefits when they come home and get out. A lot of proposals to inflate health care costs for this group of men… to the tune of about 10X the current rate. (from 450 to 5,000 a year). This is the last group that should be taking it out of hide. It is true, they should be repsected and supported. We will end up pittying them if we grab 1/3 of their retirment money and ruin their avenues of advancement in our society.

    We do not owe our soldiers sailors airmen and Marines one ounce of pity- what we owe them, is our support. That costs money.

  20. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Getting behind them means also looking after their earned benefits when they come home and get out. A lot of proposals to inflate health care costs for this group of men… to the tune of about 10X the current rate. (from 450 to 5,000 a year). This is the last group that should be taking it out of hide. It is true, they should be repsected and supported. We will end up pittying them if we grab 1/3 of their retirment money and ruin their avenues of advancement in our society.

    We do not owe our soldiers sailors airmen and Marines one ounce of pity- what we owe them, is our support. That costs money.

  21. I thought Senior Chief did a great job acting actually. It must have been hard to put a buch of training and recruiting video into a plot….

    The movie is an IO campaign. A very effective one at that. I just hope that what is gained from this in propaganda, recruiting and $$ outweighs a possible long term inpact to the brand. The Military (Navy, SEAL Teams) took a risk putting this out there in this way. It was a calculated risk to run this information operation.

    My prediction is mission succes with minimum collateral damage.

  22. Saw the movie last night, theatre was full. You could tell they weren’t actors, and you didn’t care, I defy anyone to watch the film and not cry when those names scroll across the screen at the end, especially if you know the stories of Michael Mansoour and Michael Murphy!

  23. Thanks for the great review. I was disappointed with all the other negative reviews I just read. My husband & I saw this film today & were totally captivated by it from beginning to end. We have such high regard for the brave Navy Seals who protect our country. If the acting wasn’t up to par, who cares??!! This gave us a glimpse into their world & I will be praying for their safety! May God bless them & their families!

  24. Thank You for this great review..I just saw the movie today and at the end of it thier was complete silence in the theatre. To me the movie spoke straight to the heart…spoke truth…and thumps up to the seals for portraying the characters themselves…As a former Marine I salute this MOVIE!..Hoorah!

  25. Act of Valor reminds me of a porno: a terribly weak story-line that just connects the great action sequences that it’s selling. This movie suffers from the same problem as Battle L.A. As a recruitment film, it’s great. The action is top-notch but the story is as cliched as it can possibly be (a scar-faced bad guy…really???)and, as movie with “roles”, you really don’t care about it’s characters (besides the fact that they are US Seals). If you look at it just as a war film, it’s god-awful but if you look at it as a deception of some incidents acted by real Seals, it’s great. I don’t think the mainstream critics wanted the “characters” to necessarily go through anguish about their actions but rather have some depth. I’m going to say it’s just a recruitment video so I can say it’s great because, if it’s a “war movie”, then it’s in the same category with Private Ryan, Platoon, Patton and it doesn’t deserve to be mentioned with those films.

  26. Please allow this conservative (since 1970) to sound a cautionary note about ‘elite troops.’ Please place the following into your favorite search engine – ‘Combat Applications Group Waco’. After which, please remember that CAG has many SEAL members. After that, stock up on guns and ammo, and remember that you will probably die if you try to oppose these tools of tyrants, but the important part will not be your death, but the fact that you stood up to bloody handed tyranny. Also, please keep in mind that one of the most ‘elite troops’ in history was the SS Waffen, a unit so vicious that they were generally shot by Canadian soldiers after they surrendered, due to the atrocities these ‘elites’ had taken in the battles leading up to Dunkirk.

  27. Ranger Up sent me. I love the review, although I haven’t seen the movie. Glad to see someone actually think about how the soldier’s, sailors, airmen and Marines think, instead of projecting what those who have not served THINK that they think.

  28. Just saw it today and it was very good. If you haven’t seen it yet don’t listen to the b.s coming from hollywood about how they can’t act or how the story is “cliché”. If I didn’t know going in I would have thought they were professional actors. Maybe not of the highest possible caliber, but they did a fantastic job considering they are real SEALs. Thank you to all who have served.