Act Of Valour shows that the US military
Presence of genuine US Navy Seals makes for riveting action sequences, says John Patterson, shame about the dialogue though
An image of military life the Pentagon would prefer you not to see at the movies: a friend of mine was in the US Air Force during Desert Storm, stationed on a huge air base in Germany repairing warplanes on gruelling 12-hour shifts that ran 24/7. After dismissal, he and his pothead buddies tramped a mile to the west gate to toke up. Problem was, airmen are subject to random drug searches at all times. Solution: carry tinfoil, twist it round a Biro shaft to fashion a pipe, smoke up, then grind the foil into the tarmac with your boot-heel. Looking westward at sunset, he said, the road twinkled mesmerisingly with one-hit pipes ground into it by generations of airmen, as pretty as the Yellow Brick Road.
Pure poetry, I've always thought, the kind of image that never appears in military movies, and should. In the Pentagon worldview, however, there is simply no drug use, nor any factory-style drudgery, and no one in the US Air Force is, was or ever shall be light enough in the loafers to invoke The Wizard Of Oz poetically. Self-censor your script accordingly or all military co-operation will be refused, and prepare for them to turn your film into a recruitment poster.
And sometimes, as with the US Navy-backed Act Of Valour, currently burning up the jingoist and videogamer demographics at the US box office, the Pentagon literally gets final cut. Made using real Navy Seals mixed in with professional actors, the film benefits from some pretty riveting action sequences but falls apart whenever the real troops deliver their techno-speak dialogue. It's a throwback to the pro-Vietnam 1968 John Wayne flag-waver The Green Berets, for which the embattled Pentagon happily – and rather controversially – picked up the full tab on all military expenses.
Other things the US military won't help you with: alien-invasion movies, which always make the brass look incompetent; any mention of military insanity (Thirteen Days lost Pentagon support because it depicted air force general Curtis LeMay, quite fairly, as overly nuke-happy); sex between service members, especially homosexuality, and a hundred other topics besides.
That means movies made with Pentagon co-operation are subject to an unacknowledged and aggressive extra layer of censorship; a Department Of Defence-only revival of Hollywood's hated Breen Office. With generals in charge.
Thus we'll likely never see movies about the coercive Christian evangelisation of the US Air Force Academy, about street-gang wars that continue within the military, the epidemic of rape, or the persistence of white supremacism in many pockets of all services.
What we get instead are Top Gun, The Green Berets, Act Of Valour. There are a million great stories in the rich parallel universe of military life – and movies like these aren't telling any of them.