‘Valor’is vic­to­ri­ous

Mil­i­tary film storms box of­fice with­out the Hol­ly­wood lec­ture

The Washington Times Daily - - Life -

The di­rec­tors of “Act of Valor,” Mike “Mouse” Mccoy and Scott Waugh, said they wanted to make the “first au­then­tic ac­tion film.” With its cast of ac­tive-duty Navy SEALS who fire real weapons while re-en­act­ing real mis­sions, “Valor’s” au­then­tic­ity was as­sured. Less cer­tain were its com­mer­cial prospects. Not any­more. “Valor” suc­cess­fully as­saulted box of­fices over the week­end, fin­ish­ing as the top­gross­ing film in the U.S. with $24.7 mil­lion — nearly dou­bling its $12.5 mil­lion pro­duc­tion bud­get in its first three days of re­lease.

Unashamed in its rev­er­ence and grat­i­tude for the skills and sac­ri­fices of its band of elite war­rior-broth­ers, “Valor” is sell­ing it­self as the “anti-hol­ly­wood” cor­rec­tive to the am­biva­lence, con­tempt and de­featism per­vad­ing the Amer­i­can movie in­dus­try’s de­pic­tions of the U.S. mil­i­tary in the post-9/11 era.

“Valor” is the anti-hol­ly­wood al­ter­na­tive in an­other im­por­tant sense: Un­like its com­mer­cially chal­lenged main­stream coun­ter­parts — con­flicted anti-war ser­mons such as “Lions for Lambs,” “In the Val­ley of Elah” and “Ren­di­tion” — this heart­felt trib­ute to mil­i­tary hero­ism with its fierce ac­tion has un­de­ni­able au­di­ence ap­peal. This con­trast in pop­u­lar ap­peal is so strik­ing, in­deed, that “Valor” in­vites some larger ques­tions about the cul­tural mar­ket­place.

With its stun­ning open­ing-week­end per­for­mance, has “Valor” awak­ened a sleep­ing gi­ant — a la­tent, self-ac­ti­vat­ing Red Amer­ica movie mar­ket ca­pa­ble of sup­port­ing the pro­duc­tion of new movies im­bued with old val­ues? Has the film’s break­through con­firmed the emer­gence of an al­ter­na­tive net­work of Web-based, con­ser­va­tive movie and en­ter­tain­ment sites, one that has now shown that, given a wor­thy ti­tle, it can build the kind of snow­balling word of mouth needed to suc­cess­fully open a movie?

Much of the film’s early buzz came from con­ser­va­tive and mil­i­tary blog­gers, who praised the por­trayal of the SEALS and their com­rades in arms as he­roes. Writ­ers at Black­five, one of the most widely read mil­i­tary blogs, saw a screen­ing of “Valor” last fall and told readers, “This will be one of the best movies you will ever see.”

At Big Hol­ly­wood, the con­ser­va­tive en­ter­tain­ment blog owned by dig­i­tal mini-mogul An­drew Bre­it­bart, the trailer for “Valor” was pro­moted early and of­ten.

“Since the start of the war on ter­ror, we’ve been told by our en­ter­tain­ment over­lords that Amer­i­can au­di­ences are too ‘so­phis­ti­cated’ and ‘nu­anced’ for a straight­for­ward, pro-amer­i­can, promil­i­tary, ac­tion-packed war film,” said John Nolte, ed­i­tor of Big Hol­ly­wood. “We all knew they were ly­ing, and now a film that has come out with no mar­quee names and sold only on those qual­i­ties has proven the lie.”

But movie in­dus­try sources — even the rare con­ser­va­tives — are more hes­i­tant to cer­tify the ad­vent of a ri­val movie cul­ture. Don’t for­get, they

say, “Act of Valor” is a good ride, an un­usu­ally rous­ing cou­ple of hours at the pic­tures. Is its mar­ket suc­cess re­ally an af­fir­ma­tion of its po­lit­i­cal val­ues? Or, in­stead, a con­fir­ma­tion of its en­ter­tain­ment val­ues?

The movie’s strengths — concise sto­ry­telling, re­al­is­tic ac­tion, pro­fes­sional ex­e­cu­tion — in­evitably bring to mind the weak­nesses of re­cent con­ser­va­tive cin­e­matic flops. Con­sider last year’s “At­las Shrugged: Part 1,” which grossed less than $2 mil­lion, de­spite its adap­ta­tion from a source novel with a vast, in­tensely loyal fol­low­ing that, ow­ing to Amer­i­can eco­nomic dis­tress un­der a lib­eral Demo­cratic pres­i­dent, was surging at the time of the film’s re­lease. Crit­ics and au­di­ences, in­clud­ing many from the right wing, agreed that “At­las Shrugged” just wasn’t any good. The movie’s pro­duc­ers have no one to blame but them­selves.

“They’re not vic­tims,” said Dou­glas Ur­ban­ski, a film pro­ducer for Hol­ly­wood hits such as “The Con­tender” and “Tinker, Tai­lor, Sol­dier, Spy,” and an “out of the closet” con­ser­va­tive. What is most im­por­tant, he said, is that a film is done pro­fes­sion­ally and done well. Even an ir­re­proach­ably con­ser­va­tive mes­sage can’t save a film with bad act­ing, poor screen­writ­ing and mis­guided di­rec­tion.

Lionel Chetwynd, the screen­writer and di­rec­tor be­hind movies such as “The Hanoi Hil­ton” and “Ike: Count­down to D-day,” said con­ser­va­tive niche movies like “At­las Shrugged” or the dis­as­trously un­funny “An Amer­i­can Carol” fail for the same rea­son their lib­eral coun­ter­parts do. “The au­di­ence is im­per­vi­ous to em­bed­ded po­lit­i­cal mes­sages,” Mr. Chetwynd said. Above all else, he said, they want to be en­ter­tained.

“Valor’s” story is, by de­sign, not ex­plic­itly po­lit­i­cal, fo­cus­ing in­stead on the men in combat in a dan­ger­ous, post-9/11 world. No time is wasted on clunky, mor­al­iz­ing speeches.

Paul Dergarabedian, the pres­i­dent of Hol­ly­wood.com Box Of­fice, al­lows that the film ben­e­fited from the res­o­nance of its “unique per­spec­tive” and a good hook, the use of ac­tive-duty SEALS, to bring in au­di­ences. But a na­tion’s sup­port for its war­riors doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally trans­late into sup­port for its wars.

“Act of Valor” unites peo­ple, Mr. De­gara­bid­ian said. “The mes­sage was not an overt one. These guys are in­cred­i­ble he­roes who put their lives on the line ev­ery day for us. That’s a tran­scen­den­tal mes­sage.”

More­over, Mr. Ur­ban­ski said, some im­plic­itly con­ser­va­tive mes­sages are deeply en­coded within many of Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest suc­cesses of the past decade. Block­busters such as “The Lord of the Rings,” the “Harry Pot­ter” fran­chise and “The Dark Knight” echo themes of good ver­sus evil and moral duty, re­flect­ing the tra­di­tional virtues and sta­ble moral ab­so­lutes that con­ser­va­tives hold dear.

Cul­tur­ally minded right-wingers look­ing at “Valor” as an op­por­tu­nity to wrest more con­ser­va­tive films from a re­sis­tant en­ter­tain­ment com­mu­nity may have its les­son back­ward. “Valor” shows that the real op­por­tu­nity may lie in wrest­ing more en­ter­tain­ing films from a reluc­tant con­ser­va­tive com­mu­nity.

“To the film­mak­ers’ credit, they gave us some­thing easy to mar­ket,” Mr. Nolte said. “Peo­ple were starv­ing for this.”

REL­A­TIV­ITY ME­DIA VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“Act of Valor,” star­ring real ac­tive-duty Navy SEALS, is a trib­ute to the skills and sac­ri­fices of the elite fight­ing force.

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