'Act of Valor': Does Navy SEAL film reveal too many secrets?

'Act of Valor' is a fictional account of a potential terrorist attack on American soil. The film uses 'real-life' active duty US Navy SEALs. Critics warn the film may give away sensitive intel.

Vince Bucci/AP
Navy SEAL members and their dates arrive at the premiere of "Act of Valor" in Los Angeles, Monday. The film opens in theaters Friday.

The film “Act of Valor,” opening this weekend in theaters nationwide, is a fictional account of a potential terrorist attack on American soil using, as the press materials tout, “real-life” active duty US Navy SEALs.

From high-altitude skydiving and live-ammunition gunplay, to rescues surreptitiously launched from nuclear submarines, the film’s creators promise an “unprecedented” package of heroism and (admittedly fictionalized) filmmaking.

“Real people blended with actors – it’s created a new experience,” says the film’s codirector Scott Waugh. He calls the project “the authentic action film."

To this, however, some have raised a point of objection. Their objection is not necessarily the acting, which some have criticized as a bit stilted – understandable, perhaps, since Navy SEALs are many things, but not professional thespians. 

Rather it is: Given the secretive nature of special operations forces is the film simply too much information? It was, after all, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 sent in to kill terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and, earlier this year, rescue an American hostage being held by Somali pirates.

Indeed, Pentagon officials say they have been fielding calls from concerned congressional staffers, wondering whether the movie might reveal sensitive tactics. Some within the special operations community have leveled the same critique – occasionally quite robustly – that perhaps Navy SEALs and their brethren are blithely courting too much media attention.

“Since the time when your wonderful team went and drug bin Laden out and got rid of him – and more recently when you went down and rescued the group in Somalia, or wherever the hell they were – they’ve been splashing all of this all over the media,” retired Lieutenant General James Vaught, a former Army Delta Force commander, charged as he publicly upbraided Adm. William H. McRaven, ninth commander of United States Special Operations Command, at a special operations conference earlier this month. 

“Now I’m going to tell you, one of these days, if you keep publishing how you do this, the other guy’s going to be there ready for you, and you’re going to fly in and he’d going to shoot down every damn helicopter and kill every one of your SEALs. Now, watch it happen. Mark my words – get the hell out of the media.”

McRaven was sanguine, explaining that he’s not “overly concerned” about the film, which was distributed far more widely than the Navy envisioned when they first approached the production company five years ago. “Nothing we’re displaying in there tips our sensitive tactics, techniques, and procedures,” he says. “The film company that produced this had a very collaborative effort with the Navy.

He recalled his own experience as a young officer, tasked to help with the film "Raise the Titanic," a film McRaven called "forgettable."   

Senior US military officials say that they hope this latest cinematic effort will be a valuable tool for bringing recruits – particularly minorities – into the elite force. “It was initially started as a recruiting film, so that we could help recruit minorities into teams,” says McRaven.

The command established a platoon of eight Navy SEALS just for the film, “to do the recruiting piece, which we do routinely,” McRaven says. The team is comprised of white, Latino, and black troops.

At a screening Thursday night in Washington, D.C., a group of students from Howard University, a traditionally African-American college, watched the film. At one point, a SEAL in danger receives vital supporting fire from one of his comrades in arms. “Was that the black guy” who saved him? asked one of viewers after the particularly harrowing scene.

While it may not convince him to join the force, Howard University undergraduate Bomani Buckhalter says that it brought to light some important behind-the-scenes military work “that not a lot of Americans get to see.” 

It is also the hope among military officials to highlight the service undertaken by an elite fraction of the less than one percent of all Americans who serve in the US military, in the decade since 9/11. 

The film, McRaven says, represents “a balance between kind of showcasing our capabilities in hopes that we can keep up with our recruiting goals – and hopefully this movie will continue to improve our recruiting efforts – and also, again, showcasing a number of the ‘acts of valor’ of these guys.” 

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