- - Thursday, February 23, 2012

Finally — the “anti-Hollywood” war movie.

That’s what co-directors Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh call the newly released “Act of Valor,” a soldier’s soldiering film that follows a team of Navy SEALs on a series of missions based on actual post-9/11 operations.

The filmmakers see “Valor” as, among other things, a corrective to the anti-military distortions that have streamed from Hollywood for decades.

“They’ve been so misrepresented as characters,” Mr. McCoy said. “They’re not these ‘Rambo’/’Terminator’ dudes. And that’s what Hollywood’s portrayed them as. When we met the guys, we were just blown away. They were just really humble, down-to-earth dudes. We felt like we need to communicate that. The world needs to know that they’re family men.”


Not to mention precision fighting machines — and the very last people any jihadist of sound mind wants to encounter in the dark alleyways of the world’s anti-American terrorist networks.

A scene is shown from the film "Act of Valor," which stars real, active-duty Navy SEALs. (Associated Press/Relativity Media)
A scene is shown from the film “Act of Valor,” which stars ... more >

Some moments in “Act of Valor” look at first like scenes from the Bourne films: shaky cameras darting between combatants, difficult-to-follow fight scenes, an urgent score thumping underneath. But unlike with Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, the cameras don’t pause to let stunt doubles step in when the kicks and punches and gunfire begin. “Valor,” you see, stars real-life active-duty Navy SEALs. Those “stunts” they perform in the movie? Just another day at the office.

“We really set out to make what we consider the first authentic action film,” said co-director Mr. McCoy. That means shooting in real locations, including Costa Rica and Chechnya, using real gunfire (the first Hollywood film to do so since the 1920s), and even casting the real wives and children of the SEALs portrayed. There’s no computer-generated imagery, and Mr. McCoy and Mr. Waugh laugh at the thought of filming in trendy 3-D.

In their effort to make the action as real as possible, the filmmakers were aided by the extensive cooperation of the U.S. Navy and the others in the military. Production of “Valor” began when a member of the Navy’s public relations team approached Mr. McCoy and Mr. Waugh about directing a recruitment ad. That seed grew into a full-length narrative feature. That was when the directors decided to use active-duty SEALs in the cast.

“I think, at that point, the SEAL community started to embrace this, that they were going to have a voice in this, they were going to do the operational planning,” Mr. McCoy said. “It was going to be about the brotherhood, it was going to be about the sacrifice and the families, not just the ‘bang-bang.’”

After several meetings with members of the military’s upper chain of command, the directors’ crew were able to tag along on planned training operations to film some of the movie’s most action-packed scenes, including a rendezvous with a surfacing nuclear submarine (a rare and top-secret occurrence) and a live special-operations takedown of a luxury yacht. “Usually, they just use an old tugboat,” Mr. McCoy said.

The result of all this is an immersive experience that feels much more exhilarating than even the impressive digital movie magic of, say, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.”

Yet the directors, with their backgrounds in stunts and action, also care deeply about the stories of these SEALs.

“These guys aren’t Disney characters,” said Mr. Waugh. “Mouse and I just wanted to literally capture them in realism because these guys are such incredible men.”

The filmmakers hope “Valor” can be a turning point in post-Vietnam Hollywood’s history of on-screen military-bashing. They know such change has been a long time coming.

“The Vietnam legacy has been this fog that wouldn’t lift for 40 years,” Mr. McCoy said. “And no one had the balls in Hollywood to go the other way, to say, ‘Let’s really look at the world, and the men and women serving right now.’ That’s 40 years ago. Why are we still using the same ideology, this anti-military ideology?”

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