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.

Special Forces aka Forces Spéciales (2011) French Special Forces on a Rescue Mission in Afghanistan

Forces Spéciales aka Special Forces is an exciting although controversial new French movie with an exciting cast. Apart from the lovely Diane Kruger (Joyeux Noël, Troy) there are Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator), Benoît Magimel (Intimate Enemies), Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds, Robin Hood), Raphaël Personnaz (The Princess of Montpensier), Alain Figlarz (Bourne Identity, 36), Mehdi Nebbou (Body of Lies) and Tchéky Karyo (Bad Boys, The Patriot). I am excited because I didn’t expect an action movie like this to come from France and on this type of topic. There have been a few recent French movies which were outstanding but they focused on WWI, WWII or Algeria, hardly ever are they dedicated to modern-warfare and the special forces.

This is contemporary, fast-paced, action-driven, kick-ass and very authentic. Think The Hurt Locker meets Bravo Two Zero and you get Forces Spéciales. The movie is dedicated to soldiers fallen in Afghanistan and to the journalists who risk their lives in war zones. The support from the French military is obvious, the gear that is displayed is amazing. Due to this the movie is extremely authentic. I’m not into weapons but I like authenticity and this is as authentic as it can get regarding the equipment.

The story is pretty simple. The French war reporter Elsa Casanova (Diane Kruger) gets caught by the Taliban leader Ahmed Zaief in Afghanistan. She has been conducting interviews with women and called the leader “the butcher of Kabul” in her articles. The last of the women she tries to interview warns her. They are both in great danger. Too late. Zaief captures her informant first and then lures Elsa into an ambush. He threatens to kill her and films the execution of one of her assistants and sends it to France. The French president and his advisors are informed of her captivity and decide to send Special Forces to save her.

The group of men manage to free her but when they arrive at the pick up place, the helicopter doesn’t arrive. Similar like in Bravo Two Zero, they cannot get in contact with anyone as their radio equipment has been destroyed. Time was a crucial factor in the escape and now that the helicopter won’t come, the Taliban leader and his men close in on them. They have no other choice and try to escape over the mountains. This is a catastrophe. Not only are they not equipped for high altitudes and snow but they are hunted by a large group of men.

They have to stop and fight more than once. They also need to decide at some point whether to defend villagers who have helped them against the Taliban  or try to save themselves first. Each of the men is trained in another specialty. The scenes in which the sniper is center stage are, as is usual, the most exciting ones.

The group is very likable and because these are men who have undergone an amazing training, there is a bit of superhero flavour. And they have managed to squeeze in a love story.

The strength of this movie, apart from the suspense, action and the amazing gear that is displayed, is the cast. This is one of the most appealing casts I have seen in a long time.

I also liked the score a lot but it’s not original. It’s heavily influenced by other movies. Gladiator among others.

All in all, this is a highly watchable, action-packed movie with a solid story and great actors and certainly a movie fans of The Hurt Locker and Bravo Two Zero should not miss.

I mentioned initially that this is a controversial movie but didn’t say why. As authentic as the gear and the initial scenes look, there are a few instances which are not logical later on. Agreed. The movie hasn’t received a lot of positive reviews by the French press because it was felt to be too propagandist. I’m not sure if any movie that displays army equipment and is supported by the military has to be called propagandist. Maybe it is because more than an anti-war message it carries an anti-Taliban message? In any case, it’s more of an action than a war movie, this should have become obvious by now. I suggest you watch it and let me know how you feel.

Here are two very different trailers which will give you a good idea.