Act of Valor and the Rise of the Reality Movie

Categories: Film and TV


George Berkeley asked, "Is reality a mental construct?" and America responded, "No, it's eight fake-baked Jersey kids living near the beach." Reality television has long been cheap and easy filler programming, but now movies are starting to see the influence of the genre as well.

This Friday, Act of Valor opens in theaters and it stars active duty Navy Seals using live ammunition. The film includes re-enactments of actual combat sequences, and in addition to the Seals, the pilots and submarine crews are also real members of the military. Haywire, which came out in January, stars mixed-martial-arts star and American Gladiator Gina Carano, who doesn't have to fake squeezing Channing Tatum's neck in a scissor lock but did anyway just for his safety.

In both these films, replacing traditional actors with people skilled in the actions they're performing is a gesture towards authenticity. Colombiana was widely criticized for using the gorgeous but scrawny Zoe Saldana to portray a stone-cold assassin, whereas Carano definitely has the muscle tone as a credential. But it's an actor's job to realistically pretend to be something she isn't, after all.


In 2004, the protagonists of indie flick 9 Songs don't simulate sex, they just go ahead and do it. The trailer calls it "the most sexually extreme mainstream rock film ever" (Warning: That video does contain moaning). So it's music nerd porn mixed with real porn. Lars Von Trier also prefers the realistic method, utilizing body doubles having real sex in Antichrist and other films, but being Danish, he is not alone.

This trend of using real sex, real guns and real fighters works on the assumption that it's necessary to give a film and its story legitimacy when that's definitely not true. Another movie that came out this month did manage to achieve realism without using "real people," or in this case real aliens. Chronicle was about three teenage boys who developed telekinetic powers after touching a glowing rock in the woods, and it was stunningly effective at capturing how real people might feel and behave if thrown into this fictional situation.

That's what storytelling is -- not the guns and the punches and the plot devices that get you from point A to point B. It's the stuff in the middle and the human element that make a story real.

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