Before venturing to the theater and forking over ten or twelve dollars to see the newest release, moviegoers typically check movie review sites to hear about critics’ and viewers’ experiences. And why not? Hearing a variety of reviews almost always provides an accurate picture of the movie’s quality, so viewers can avoid wasting their time and money on a dud. I almost always check Rotten Tomatoes before I go see a movie – going in blind is just not worth the risk. I’ve had some really bad movie watching experiences doing that.
With that being said… critics’ opinion should not always be the final word. It seems to me that a good deal of the people who evaluate movies for a living eventually lose touch with what is actually good. (And don’t even get me started on the Academy.) In one particular case recently, I was extremely glad that I disregarded the critics’ acrimony; otherwise, (well… I hate to exaggerate… actually, never mind, I’m not exaggerating) I would have missed one of the greatest movie watching experiences I have had the pleasure of enjoying. Act of Valor was simply tremendous.
When my friends and I heard that a movie starring real Navy SEALs was being made, we immediately made mental reservations for opening weekend. We were disappointed when that weekend arrived, and with the movie came a 25% critical approval rating. We could only conclude that it was poorly written, horrifically produced, dreadfully directed, or some combination of the three. Nevertheless, we decided to press on, because of something between a desire to support the members of our military who acted in the film and a desire to just enjoy an action-packed “guy movie.”
With my expectations lowered, I was nothing short of astounded by Act of Valor. This movie has it all. I experienced an extensive range of potent emotions in those 101 minutes, an agreeable departure from a typical “guy movie.” But it’s no chick flick either – there’s an abundant amount of superbly executed action (not surprising, given the real Navy SEALs in starring roles). In addition, even beyond these traits, it was Act of Valor’s intangibles that took it right into the stratosphere of movie experiences. The burning reaction of patriotism, gripping depth of gratitude, and even several reflexive (and audible) “wow’s” that this movie engendered from me were simply breathtaking to experience. It is a real art to be able to powerfully move an audience to such deep emotion, and I commend those who accomplished this through their work on this film.
Given this analysis, it’s pretty clear that I find the 25% critics’ rating completely ridiculous. In scenes heavy on dialogue, it was pretty clear that the Navy SEAL actors weren’t professionals… but I thought that added a terrific dimension of sincerity and realness to their characters. In fact, the line between documentary and feature film gets slightly hazy, which was extremely cool as well. The plot flies forward, the action pulls you aggressively in, and you are wholly immersed in a unique movie experience from the moment the lights go down. I could talk all day, but I’m gonna stop here. Just go see the movie. I can’t wait to see it again.
By the way, Act of Valor’s audience agrees with my assessment. The viewers’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes was 80%.