Petty Officer Michael Davis (Jeremy Davis) is the newbie to SEAL Team VI, but after his first mission the young soldier is weathered beyond hid years. His first assignment as for the elite black ops squad is as Communications Officer for the micro ground assault team that enabled surgical aerial assaults of strategic targets in Iraq, priming allied forces for the what is now known as Operation Desert Storm. The honor of being part of the special forces unit is enriched by the fact that he is invited into the unit lead by the best, Master Chief Devon Mackefy (Ken Gamble).
The team, having just returned from one mission, is called into duty once again, because “Mac is the best”. Feeling the pull of the call, and given no option by the powers that be, our heroes go into the thick of it with the usual disadvantages - tired, short by one man and in need of gearing up in the weapons department; all with their invisibility being paramount.
For an independent film, this film succeeds in many of its ambitions. The scope of the piece is vast, rivaling any studio backlot. The stylistic choice of superimposed images cries of a strong influence by the early work of Melvin Van Peebles and is effective in evoking that patriotic pride swell. The sound design is impressive, immersing the audience in a sea of jet thunder and air strike explosions.
Ken Gamble gives the only true stand-out performance of the film. As Master Chief Devon Mackefy, Gamble is the portrait of the walking wounded; a soldier who is dangerous and intelligent, a leader who is powerful yet vulnerable. Despite the narration lead by Jeremy Davis’ character, this is Mac’s story. It’s a compelling one and Gamble more than does justice to the role.
If you forgive the Sci-Fi Channel visual effects, and the structure of the film, which at times make it difficult to distinguish past from present, the big problem with this film is the length. Director Mark Andrews falls into the trap that many of us writer directors do of not trimming the fat. While the fact that we are on an actually aircraft carrier is very cool, at a certain point the film starts to feel like a training video. Cool footage shouldn’t trump the storytelling.
Similarly, there are some especially heart-wrenching moments towards the end of the movie that just go on too long. Ken Gamble is strong and solid in the leading role of Mac; he is an actor that conveys a lot while doing very little. At the turning point of the film, we see Mac agonize over his actions for a long time, in addition to the inter-cutting of flashbacks. The suffering goes on, long after the audience “gets it”, and consequently, losses some of its emotional power. My thoughts keep harkening back to the “Jaws” model. The less you see of the shark, the more the perception of danger is heightened, the more intense the experience. SEAL Team VI just “shows too much of the shark.”
I think the film does get the pacing right with the sequence with the boy and the soccer ball. The final moments of the film are shrouded in reverence for our soldiers everywhere, those who have fallen and those who find the strength to keep going. I don’t think anyone will have a problem with that; I certainly don’t.
At the heart of SEAL Team VI, the film is a simple - and simultaneously complicated – story about choices. It’s about living with the consequences of our actions, and our inaction. Amidst the gunfights and big blue sky, SEAL Team VI is an examination of what it means for one man to be a father, a soldier and a human being and how all those identities are compromised by war.
The perspective of this film is an important one. While each man and woman must take responsibility for the decision to enlist in the armed forces, there are innumerous other difficulties and life-altering choices that must be made while performing the duties they have swore to perform. There are often situations where performing one’s duties compromises the bounds of what the status quo considers honorable or moral. This film is an important reminder that, while the debate rages on at home about what wars we should be engaged in and why, these debates seldom include the acknowledgement that performing duties for God and country costs our servicemen and women a piece of their soul.
They should be honored. They should be thanked. And we all should be reminded.
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