Act of Valor and Special Forces Compared

I watched Act of Valor and Special Forces recently and reviewed them both (here and here). While I liked them both, I have a clear preference for Special Forces. I will remember it much longer and will certainly watch it again. Both movies have flaws but the sources of those flaws are very different. I thought it would be interesting to look into the details and analyse why I liked one movie so much more.

The French movie Forces Spéciales and the US movie Act of Valor are strikingly similar. Both show the special forces of the respective countries in action, displaying the amazing gear and weapons and showing some of the tactics. While the rescue mission takes the whole 2hrs of Force Spéciales, in Act of Valor it is over after the first third of the movie and the story adds other missions. The most striking  difference however is the fact that Special Forces uses famous actors while the Act of Valor cast consists mainly of real Navy Seals.

Realism

While both movies have been supported by their respective military and the gear and weapons displayed make them look authentic, the fact that the cast of Act of Valor are real Navy Seals makes it more realistic. Additionally all the missions which are said to be based on real missions came across as more realistic. After the journalist has been freed in Special Forces, the movie starts to incorporate a few elements which are a bit questionable and some reviews I read criticized them a lot.

Story

Special Forces tells one chronological story. A journalist has to be freed and after that has been achieved, the group must flee which takes up 2/3 of the movie. In Act of Valor, different missions are shown which are interlinked. The story telling is rather episodic with each part having its own climax.

Music

I’m a sucker for film music that’s why I paid special attention. The music in Act of Valor is supporting and quite discreet while in Special Forces it’s dramatic, very present and influenced by a lot of very familiar scores. It’s, to be completely honest, a tad corny.

Cinematography

Decent in Act of Valor and absolutely stunning in Special Forces.

Actors and Characters

The cast of Special Forces is the big strength of the movie. The cast and the characters. Most of them are famous and play likable characters. It’s easy to care for them and we are not indifferent to their fate. Some of the scenes are particularly dramatic and emotional because the one or the of the likable characters is wounded or dies.

The characters in Act of Valor however are flat. I couldn’t tell them apart and since the dialogue was so wooden, I didn’t care for them at all. The movie emphasizes the missions, emotions are not so important.

Emotions

While Act of Valor may be entertaining and exciting, it left me ultimately cold. I wasn’t moved while I had quite strong emotions when watching Special Forces.

It was interesting to see how important it is for me to care for characters and their fate. If a movie leaves me completely cold emotionally, I simply don’t like it that much and am bound to forget it very easily. As I said, both movies have flaws, in Act of Valor it’s the actors and the characters, in Special Forces some elements are not realistic. Overall I can forgive (minor) unrealistic elements when the characters are believable and the story triggers an emotional response.

Has anyone seen both movies? Which one did you prefer?

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Act of Valor (2012) US Special Forces Against Terrorists

Not long ago I reviewed the French movie Forces Spéciales – Special Forces (here) and so it was only natural I would also watch Act of Valor sooner or later, especially since The War Movie Buff pointed out that they sounded similar. I find it particularly interesting now that I have seen them both, to compare them and that’s why I will post a comparison in a day or two.

Act of Valor tells the story of a group of Navy Seals (played by real Navy Seals) sent to rescue a CIA agent who has been abducted. She was investigating the connection between two men, a drug dealer and a known terrorist.

Contrary to what was expected at the beginning, the mission isn’t over after the agent has been freed. They realize that what is behind her abduction is far bigger than what was initially seen. As a matter of fact, a group of suicidal bombers, wearing explosives which cannot be detected by any metal detector are about to enter the US. They will be posted in every major city. The damage they will cause, will be far worse than 9/11.

At this point in time, the team splits and we follow first those who try to capture the drug-dealer and then the others trying to capture the terrorist who tries to enter the US via Mexico and the help of the drug cartel.

Maybe this sounds confusing but the story lines are told in a seamless way. The action sequences are astonishingly well done. We really get a feel for the incredible gear, techniques and tactics. More than once I was thinking “Who would want to mess with men like this?”. Not only do they have the best equipment, they are also trained for every eventuality and react amazingly quickly.

It is very important to re-emphasize the fact that the men are played by real Navy Seals. This is a great plus in the action sequences. Those men know what they are doing and it feels very realistic and is fascinating. But there are dialogue scenes as well and unfortunately they drag the movie down. They are too bad. Every time two of the main characters have one of their buddy talks it’s painful to watch. They are wooden and the way they speak sounds learned by heart and unnatural.

Despite some of the reservations mentioned before, Act of Valor is a highly watchable movie. We don’t get to see such exciting missions with so much realistic detail, different weapons and tactics very often. And it’s a valuable and interesting movie as well. It’s interesting because it shows that nowadays war doesn’t mean that one army will fight against another army, but that it is far more frequent that smaller groups of men will fight against other groups of men. A lot of the fighting takes places indoors or in smaller villages.

I can see thow many people will have a problem with a movie like this, saying it is glorifying, patriotic etc…. Maybe all of this isn’t wrong. I still think it’s not only an entertaining movie but an important movie because it offers a great basis for discussions and offers the layman a look into the job of a Navy Seal.

It seems that the individual missions in the movie are all based on real missions. There is one element that really astonished me. One act of amazingly unselfish heroism. If that is true as well…

As I said, Act of Valor has a lot in common with the French movie Special Forces. I am strongly in favour of one of the two movies and I do have my reasons for that. If you are interested to find out which one and why, make sure to read my next post.  It’s due in a day or two.

Ridley Scott’s G. I. Jane (1997) Navy SEALS, Military Life, Sexism and a Whole Bunch of Unanswered Questions

Ridley Scott’s G. I. Jane is an extremely entertaining movie. I just need to enumerate who’s in it and you might be tempted to watch it if you haven’t done so yet. Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, James Caviezel, Anne Bancroft. The story is interesting if somewhat implausible but certainly providing us with some food for thought about different things.

Lt Jordan O’Neil (Demi Morre) is an ambitious young woman. She would like to climb the career ladder no matter what it takes. Being pretty sure this will need some combat experience she is willing to go the whole way. Only women aren’t really allowed to undergo combat training. Senator DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) is equally ambitious. Sensing that supporting the admission of women to the Army might boost her career she does everything to get permission to let a test candidate, G.I. Jane, undergo training. To make matters worse the people against her and this undertaking decide to choose the hardest possible training, namely the Navy SEAL training.

The selection of the right candidate takes some time. Senator DeHaven doesn’t want a masculine looking woman, she doesn’t want a homosexual woman either as this could undermine the exercise. When she sees as picture of beautiful Jordan O’Neil, she knows, it is her and no other that she wants for this test run.

What follows is one of those stories that show us how a resilient human being can fight even the most adverse circumstances, overcome weakness and prove her strength.

Jordan undergoes the SEAL training and where many men fail, she excels. She makes it through the initial week and the following weeks. During this time she is closely supervised, challenged and in the end also brutalized by the Master Chief (Viggo Mortensen). Of all the boot camp bastards that we get to see in this type of training focused movies he is by far one of the most complex and interesting. Not just because he quotes poetry but also because he changes considerably and ultimately because he isn’t a bad sort at all. He has to be mean. Sure, there is this one scene in which he overdoes it but doesn’t he have his reasons?

The movie shows 2/3 boot camp and 1/3 actual combat. This las part is highly fictionalized and serves mainly the purpose to show how worthy a soldier Jordan has become.

The movie is a bit on the sentimental side and – yes – it is stretching quite a few things but I like it and have watched it before. I think Demi Moore was a terrific choice and it is one of Viggo Mortensen’s best roles. Also Anne Bancroft as a real b**** is great.

Does it say much about women in the military? It certainly does look at the adversity a woman would have and does face, it looks at the prejudices and preconceptions. Jordan has to start to do it exactly like the men before she is only half accepted. It shows also that it isn’t only that men think women can’t do it but that men are constantly tested by the presence of women. Temptation as well as compassion play into it. Seeing a wounded female soldier might be harder to take than seeing a wounded man. And what If she has to rescue you and she is a slender woman while you are a big, bulky man, weighing twice as much?

My top favourite scene is when a bunch of soldiers, one of them of African-American origin, discuss if a woman should be admitted to this type of training and the African-American soldier points out that his grandfather was only allowed a s a cook during WWII. It is obvious that the prejudices African.Americans had to face were similar to those women had and have to endure.

Don’t watch it, if you are looking for answers, watch it when you want great entertainment and a probably very realistic look at the Navy SEALS training.

I am left with quite a lot of questions. Are there women today in the Navy SEALS? Is it in any way a realistic movie or not at all? Why exactly did the Master Chief mistreat her like this?

Answers anyone?