Fascinating Film On SEALs At Work

A Navy SEAL in ‘Act of Valor’

I woke up this morning feeling a little sad and a lot grateful.

Last night my husband Jerry and I saw Act of Valor at Kapolei Theaters. If you haven’t heard, this movie, which opened in theaters Feb. 24, is one of 2012’s hottest big screen productions. It’s an edge-of-your-seat, popcorn-gulping, breath-holding action thriller about one specific mission in our covert war on terror.

And what’s remarkable is that the stars of the movie are real Navy SEALs playing real Navy SEALs. What could’ve been a recipe for hokiness turned out to be brilliant.

Having been associated with the military as a spouse and mother for 45 years, I’ve been disappointed at how moviemakers have so often spun war films to ultimately denigrate the military. It wasn’t surprising that film directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh were turned down by the SEALs several times before they finally agreed, even though the Navy Department had OK’d the project. Not until SEAL team members were convinced that the film would, for once, portray their organization realistically and objectively did they agree.

An interview with the two filmmakers by Jami Philbrick of I am Rogue film news service shed light on how non-actors made it work. Philbrick asked if acting coaches had to be hired.

“They’re not acting. They’re not playing a character. They’re just being themselves,” says McCoy.

“They would write the dialogue,” Waugh adds. “We would have a skeleton dialogue, but if they didn’t want to say anything there they wouldn’t say it there. The SEAL would say, ‘I wouldn’t say that,’ then I’d say, well what would you say there? ‘I’d say this.’ Then, say that.

“All the scenes were organically grown within them. All the operations were planned by the SEALs so they would be comfortable with the way it was going down. You’re working with the best guys in the world who are so integrated in such a fundamental way as a team, as a unit, and they can move through as just one organic machine … You couldn’t replicate that with actors and stuntmen properly. It would just look silly.”

“It was actually educational because you would ask them ‘How would you enter the room?’ for example, and then you would just sit back and they would show you, and you would just go, whoa. We would’ve spent the entire day trying to educate the actors on what they just did,” explains Waugh.

What I found so riveting about this film was its authenticity. A fiction movie by definition is illusory, replete with the obvious: cameras, crew, makeup artists applying fake wounds, inescapable retakes and scenes shot out of order. The audience feels none of that.

“Were you guys impressed, were you blown away at certain times by what they could do?” Philbrick asks the filmmakers.

“What blew me away was their intellect and their emotional stability, but more importantly their relationship with their wives and kids,” Waugh says. “You think when we first met them, [they’d be] Rambo terminator guys who would just go in and kill everybody, but it’s just so opposite from that. When they operate, they’re truly focused. But when they’re off the battlefield, they’re the funniest, most charismatic people on the planet.”

I’m so grateful for this film, a rare glance into the Navy SEALs’ covert world of intense discipline, razor-sharp focus on mission, bravery, self-sacrifice, loving family relations and patriotism. I hope everyone sees it to appreciate those who day-in, day-out risk all to foil the many unreported terrorist attacks on our country.

So how does my gratitude and sadness share the same heart?

One SEAL doesn’t make it home alive. When his widow is handed the crisply folded American flag that had draped his coffin, I held my breath fighting long-stifled memories of a similar scene all too real for me. And, of a man – in some ways not unlike these SEALs – who long ago sacrificed his life in a Marine Corps jet crash. My husband, dedicated and fiercely loyal to his country, never saw a nation that appreciated his service, so disparaged during the Vietnam War and a decade after. Like the SEALs, he didn’t care and proudly did his job anyway.

But I did care. I still do.