Act of Valor: Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican Rice and Beans)

Year Released: 2012
Directed by: Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh
Starring: Roselyn Sanchez, Jason Cottle, Alex Veadov
(R, 101 min.)

"Navy SEALs are Olympic athletes that kill people for a living." Tom Clancy

In 2012 I finally got my February fix of utterly awesome politically incorrect action. And I’m not the only who has been longing for it, as the box office shows. This low budget film, which used real Navy SEALs and their families, took in $24.5 million, almost twice the production costs, on opening weekend alone.

And it does exactly what Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington -- bless their hearts – both failed to do: It identifies America’s real enemies, not Hollywood’s “reel” ones. And they are not some self-righteous wolves defending their Alaskan wilderness against oil roughnecks; nor the CIA, targeted again by yet another rogue agent rebelling against its dark deeds, the only ones current Hollywood chooses to see.

Here we see villains who actually do threaten all Americans. And they are a Medusa head full of writhing serpents united with bonds of religious fanaticism, greed, and lust for power, the usual heady brew that fuels the gods of war.

The heroes and villains alike are brushed with broad strokes, not unlike some of Poe’s best. Perhaps the Navy SEALs themselves are the most surprising to all, far from an unhinged half-psycho Rambo image that many harbor concerning professional soldiers. These guys are lethal killers, all right, but they are also gentle family men, as bright as they are deadly. Military intelligence is not an oxymoron in this film.

We get just the right amount of characterization to make us care about the fates of the main players. Seal “Boss,” Lieutenant Roark Engel, his baby face belying his bull like tenacity, is expecting his first child, something he plans on keeping secret for a while. It is a running joke that his operating “Chief,” Petty officer Dave Nolan spreads the good news with utter abandon, perhaps making up for his sealed lips concerning the secret details of their missions. 

Professional actors flesh out the other leads. Roselyn Sanchez plays Lisa Morales, a caring Mexican physician working for Doctors without Borders, who also doubles as a CIA agent. She brings that same lethal combination of “butt-kicking beauty” that she did to her roles in the Rush Hour franchise and the regular role of Agent Elena Delgado on the popular hit series, “Without a Trace.” Interestingly enough, Sanchez says she enjoyed working with the Seals even more than with professional actors. Real men versus the vainglorious ones always mugging for the camera? Not a tough choice, I would venture. 

As far as the bad guys go, Act of Valor does a rare thing. It makes us loathe them even as it avoids making them into cardboard villains. We understand their motivations and realize how they arm themselves with self-deceptions against any outbreaks of conscience. Yet, no amount of loving poolside conversations with his daughter can offset the brutal torture Christo (Alex Veadov) inflicts upon Morales to try to save his drug-funded fiefdom.

The same goes for Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle), the passionate Chechen who glories in killing little Indonesian children at an ice cream truck. All those Indonesian lives are worth it because in the charred rubble we also find the American Ambassador and his son.

Another rare offering – an unvarnished look at the soft Mexican border and the danger posed by a pact between the drug cartels and jihadists. Interestingly enough, no real Arabs are involved here; the villains are Chechens. They don’t do the heavy lifting, though. It is Filipinos who are recruited into martyrdom.

Except for a few vignettes, we are spared the usual hackneyed ploys to reveal character. For the most part, we see the SEALs doing their jobs, not jawboning about it, which is exactly the kind of taciturn fighting men they are. And the scenes of them in action, many of which used live ammunition, are spectacular. 

I know that if I were ever in some God forsaken country being tortured almost to death in a squalid jungle hut, I would want these brave men coming to rescue me. And killing the rotten thugs standing guard while our dedicated doctor has holes drilled into her hands is a thing of beauty, if I may confess such an unchristian sentiment. They take out one guard on a pier with what almost looks like tenderness, catching his body ever so gently as it falls into the water. Of course that is only to mute the sounds of his annihilation, as we soon see while he is held under water for an appropriate time. 

There is artistry in the filming, too. Great orange sunsets backdrop helicopter missions. In Costa Rica a long brown snake of a river becomes an angry serpent when shallow water boats churn down it, spitting out the venom of their vessel-mounted 50-caliber machine guns. 

This is a must-see film about real heroes. As Tom Clancy says, “They don’t stand out, spin webs out of their wrists, or wear capes when they work. They breathe and bleed like the rest of us, but they live life differently, and that’s what distinguishes them.”

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Dr. Lisa Morales works among the very poor in Costa Rica, temporary home of the drug and arms dealer, “Christo,” who salves his conscience by donating heavily to her clinic. That is where he comes up on the radar of this CIA informant.

Too bad she ignores the local food and orders Chinese delivered to her modest apartment. Otherwise, she would have been more suspicious of that knock at her door.

Let’s try to not think too much about her now, enduring excruciating slow torture in the jungle as our Navy SEALs organize to free her. There’s not much we can do now but wait. 

And while this film is based on real missions, it is still fiction, so we don’t have to feel too guilty about a modest indulgence. So how about sampling the local cuisine in the meantime?

Let’s try some Pinto Gallo, “Spotted Rooster,” a cute name for this blend of black beans and rice, enhanced with the 3 c’s: ground coriander, fresh cilantro, and cumin.

Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican Rice and Beans)

I found this recipe in a copy of Vegetarian Times. Gallo Pinto translates as "spotted rooster", and is a dish eaten by many Costa Ricans almost every day.” Kosmic Blues


  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium onion , finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves , minced
  • 3 cups cooked white rice
  • 2 cups cooked black beans , drained and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 -3 tablespoons vegetarian Worcestershire sauce (regular can be used as well)
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper , to taste
  • fresh cilantro (optional)
  • sliced green onion (optional)


  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and sauté until it just begins to soften and turns color.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until onion is golden.
  4. Add spices and Worcestershire, and stir into onion and garlic.
  5. (The first time I made this, I was afraid to add the full 3 Tbsp of Worcestershire, but the addition of the rice balances the flavor out).
  6. Next, add the beans and then the rice.
  7. Combine the rice and beans evenly and cook until mixture is heated through.
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.
  9. Garnish with some chopped cilantro or green onions if you prefer.
  10. Vegetarians use only the vegetarian Worcestershire sauce.

 Recipe Source: