Chris Pandolfi Avatar Posted on 2/28/2012 by Chris Pandolfi

Movie critic Chris Pandolfi explains the reasoning behind his review of Act of Valor, supporting the troops, and the meaning of real patriotism.

Written by Chris Pandolfi (editor-at-large)

Pop or Propaganda?

I normally don’t see the need to explain how I feel about movies, as I believe the reviews I write about them are fairly self explanatory. But in the case of Act of Valor, a war film which utilized real active duty Navy SEALs, it seems I have no choice in the matter. That’s because my Nay-voted review, which was admittedly venomous, incurred the wrath of a reader who made it perfectly clear that, despite not always agreeing with the military’s tactics, he was a very patriotic American citizen who wholeheartedly supported our troops. So as to avoid any further backlash, I feel it necessary to clarify my position on this film. I will be quoting from his e-mail, but when it comes to his name, his internet identity, and his e-mail address, I will refrain from divulging specifics. No need to fan the flames any more than they already have been.

“I think our government does some stupid things,” he told me, “but our soldiers are heroes.” On this point, we’re in perfect alignment. It does indeed take a special type of person to knowingly put him/herself in harm’s way in the name of his/her country. Without our troops, we would not have tracked down and assassinated Osama bin Laden, who masterminded both the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings and the 9/11 attacks. But immediately after he said this, my detractor went on the defense, as if I had personally devalued him. “Maybe you should think about who you’re insulting before you open your mouth next time,” he said. “This is a movie about Navy Seals and a representation of some of the things they face in their job. If you think that’s a recruitment video, then I guess you think ‘Deadliest Catch’ is as well?”

Let’s begin with his perception that I’m insulting our troops – which, to be perfectly frank, indicates that he didn’t actually read my review from start to finish. At no point did I ever insult our troops. In fact, I place no blame on them at all; their involvement in Act of Valor was made mandatory at the insistence of the Navy, who were actively working towards rebuilding the military’s reputation following the unpopularity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and following years of brutal and understandably cynical Hollywood films that refused to glorify war with glaringly xenophobic simplifications. My attacks were aimed at those who felt it necessary to exploit the SEALs for their own personal and professional gains, namely directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh and the media departments of the American military. Those who fight for our country deserve more respect than that.

Moving on, its status as a recruitment video is not based on my personal opinion, but on documented fact, as reported by John Anderson of the New York Times (read the full article HERE) and by Jordan Zakarin of The Huffington Post (full article HERE). As for The Deadliest Catch, I admit to not having watched a single episode of that show, as I truly have no interest in a reality series about the lives of fishermen catching Alaskan king crabs in the Bering Sea (truth be told, I don’t even eat seafood, as I find the taste of it disgusting). But if my commenter’s thinking is right and it is indeed a recruitment video, I wouldn’t have a problem with it as long as the fishermen involved themselves of their own free will.. At least then, I’d know that they weren’t pawns in a corporate scheme to drum up business.

The e-mail concludes with the following statements: “You’re a conspiracy theorist who writes movie reviews for a living? You are but a fraction of the overall growing problem in this country, but nonetheless, a contributing factor to it. You need to move to another country where someone won’t punch you in your mouth, but here, someone just might...” Let me make this perfectly clear: I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Someone like that wouldn’t even bother to do research for their articles; rather than react emotionally to the film, I was merely commenting on the facts as they were presented to me, including in the articles I mentioned in the previous paragraph. The implication is that, because I’m questioning the tactics of my government and the filmmakers they hired for this film, I’m (a) automatically against our troops, and (b) someone who doesn’t love his country.

Let me pose the following question: If I didn’t love my country, would I care if our troops were being used by our government as pawns in an effort to recruit new soldiers? Would I bother to see them first as human beings with families and careers? It’s precisely because of my patriotism that I responded so badly to Act of Valor. I love my country enough to not want to see our bravest people exploited. I believe that anyone has the right to join any branch of the military if he/she chooses to do so. However, I don’t believe it’s right to lure them in with a glorified two-hour action extravaganza. That puts it in the dreaded category of propaganda. The decision to enlist should be a personal one based on careful research and a clear idea of what your goals in life are. And on that note, I hope to put this ugliness behind me and move on to other films. Life is too short to spend all your time shouting at the rain.

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