Act of Valor: Celebrating and Denying the Brutalities of an Endless and Global U.S. War


  • Robin Andersen



This paper analyzes Act of Valor (2012) as a Hollywood film and Pentagon PR vehicle produced by a vast and expanding U.S. military-industrial-media-entertainment-complex. As a synergistic coproduction between the Bandito Brothers, a Hollywood film production company, and the U.S. Navy SEALs, a significant arm of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), the film presents mythic depictions of the changing public face of U.S. military policy, personnel and practice in the post-9/11 context of the endless global “war on terror.” A close reading of the film’s textual content, including the visual and audio strategies, reveals highly constructed imaginings of war and conflict, including a new militainment trope of soldier-as-superhero. Understood to be a “militainment” product and a significant moment in the development of the Hollywood-Pentagon complex, themes in Act of Valor's are compared and contrasted to Hollywood's cycle of critical war films, particularly the Vietnam War era classic, Apocalypse Now. The final section interrogates Act of Valor’s reality and authenticity claims via a systematic critique of the ways the film misrepresents the “reality” of U.S. military policy (Dirty Wars), personnel (elite special ops soldiers) and practice (terror, torture, clandestine killing and more). Particularly, it focuses on the way the film’s representation/aestheticization of war sanitizes and celebrates significant yet contentious transformations in U.S. foreign policy, denies the human, moral and political consequences of these transformations and supports the growth and maintenance of a war society.