For conservatives and traditionalists, unusual good news from Hollywood—in terms of both weekend box-office results and, amazingly enough, the Oscar ceremonies.
Among all new films released Friday, Act of Valor counted as the runaway winner, with the public eagerly endorsing a breathlessly paced, passionately pro-military, hyper-patriotic action film about heroic Navy SEALs protecting the public from diabolical cooperation between Islamo-Nazis and drug cartels. The movie delivered its stunningly choreographed scenes of combat on a miniscule budget of $12 million, earning back more than twice that amount ($24.7 million, an impressive $8,128 per screen) in just its first three days in release. By comparison, the top new release from the big studios, Jennifer Aniston’s intermittently amusing hippie-commune comedy, Wanderlust, earned just $6.6 million and a $3,297 average per screen.
Like The Hurt Locker, the Oscar-winning Best Picture from 2008, Act of Valor attempted to give moviegoers an intimate, visceral sense of personal participation in danger and combat, but unlike The Hurt Locker, this new film connected with a mass audience—earning considerably more in its first three days than its much-acclaimed predecessor brought home in its entire run.
The box-office returns suggest that the public viewed buying tickets for Act of Valor as a means of openly supporting our noble troops and endorsing their work, while The Hurt Locker seemed to express pity for its bomb-defusing military professionals—honorable but damaged guys trapped in their dubious mission in Iraq. The new film views sacrifice and service as heroic (if occasionally tragic), while the Oscar winner from two years ago emphasized the ugliness and brutality of combat. The sharply contrasting ticket sales make it clear which point of view the public prefers.
Moreover, Act of Valor's commercial triumph comes in the face of overwhelmingly negative reviews—with most critics dismissive of a project that began as a Navy recruiting film and uses real-life SEALs (and their families) rather than professional actors to play all the daring special operators in the fictional story. It’s true that the movie offers little in the way of nuance or shades of gray, but for many of us who pay close attention to the ongoing efforts of elite counterterror units, the daily struggle against some of the most depraved and monstrous forces on earth is indeed a clear-cut battle of good versus evil.