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Cinema in Focus: ‘Act of Valor’

For America, the best defense — and its true source of strength — comes from its people and our shared values

3 Stars — Thought-Provoking

Act of Valor is a film that will haunt you long after you see it.

Writer Kurt Johnstad and directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh have blended together the pulse-throbbing action of a war movie with a documentary style that uses active-duty Navy Seals to look at the terror they confront on our behalf every day. Not only are we witnesses to unfettered bravery, but we are also confronted with the reality of what a thin line there is between America being a place of peace or a place paralyzed by fear.

If you are looking for great story-telling, this may not be the movie for you. Since these are not actors but real Navy Seals, we witness a lot of hum-drum conversations about their lives back home. Real life is never exciting in the movies, and although these guys are heroes, this is not a James Bond-kind of film.

The stories told blend together action in Central America, Somalia and Eastern Europe, tied together in a web of drugs, money, weapons and Middle East fanaticism. For those who hate the West, there is little allegiance to idealism when it comes to the use of destructive weapons. So much of the carrying out of this kind of war is dependent from their side on using poor people willing to sacrifice themselves for “a place in heaven.”

By contrast, from our side, the war is held in check by some of the brightest and well-provisioned soldiers ever to face an enemy. These Seals are part warrior and part machine, human beings with real lives and real families, and at the same time, larger-than-life action figures.

Viewed as a war movie, it is clear that the United States has some amazing weaponry at its disposal. For a country to have the ability to drop soldiers out of a plane, parachute into the ocean, be picked up in an instant by a submarine, and then eventually launched out of a torpedo tube on to the shores of a hostile country while carrying satellite-guided weapons is a testament to a military-industrial complex of fantasy proportions. This is also a war movie of the best and the brightest college-educated volunteers, all of whom look like they came directly from Central Casting at a movie studio.

On the other hand, viewed as a morality play, it is also clear that moral questions of “right and wrong” are caught in the middle ground of competing world views. How can we not use every means possible to stop evil in the world, especially if its intent is to harm innocent people in the advancement of their aims? At the same time, we are haunted by the fact that the money being used to advance these acts of terror is coming from the deviant lifestyle of Americans who fuel the marketplace of drugs and guns with their own selfish purchases of these products — undermining not only their own souls, but the soul of this country as well as the world itself.

We have always known that the only sure defense of America comes from building strength at its core — using our spiritual strength and commitments to build a society on communitarian values. The greatest acts of valor we know are to lay down our lives for our friends and family. Sometimes this is done by the best Navy Seals in the world. Most of the time, it is done by you and me in our daily lives. One without the other will ultimately lead to our demise.

Discussion:

» Do you believe the peace of the world is based on military power? If not, on what is it based?

» The fact that criminals make their money off people who buy their illegal drugs means it is a problem of both addiction and greed. Which do you think would be more productive in fighting this war against drugs?

» Would you encourage your son or daughter to enter these kinds of “special forces”? If not, why not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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