Act of Valor, the new action flick in theaters which features active-duty U.S. Navy SEALs (apparently filmed in-between deployments), is both a salute to the men and women of the armed forces as well as an intense action movie. While its authenticity (you will NEVER see this much re-loading in any other action movie – seriously) is often times a blessing, it also acts as its biggest downfall as it utilizes soldiers, not actors, in the role as the SEALs themselves. Does this interesting mix of fact and fiction make the cut? Find out in our full review after the jump!
Our screening of the film began with a short featurette detailing some of the logistics of making a Hollywood film with active-duty SEALs (something not done before) as well as the challenge of using live ammunition in some of the film’s sequences. I sincerely hope they show this featurette in front of normal theater viewings as it helps set the stage for what is about to unfold. To summarize Act of Valor: It is simply a film about a team of Navy SEALs attempting to stop a terrorist plan to infiltrate the United States with explosive devices. However, it accomplishes much more than that brief synopsis. It shows active duty Navy SEALs attempting to bring a bit of their professionalism, planning, and mission execution to the screen in an action film format. The normal person would not understand the training that these guys have to go through. In fact, I was hoping to see more of that aspect of their preparation. Submersing yourself in freezing water for periods of time that would send you or I into hypothermia, cardio and conditioning routines that would floor Tony Horton before he could say “P90X2!” (Editor’s Note: Excited to try that program). I was hoping to see a little more of what forges these guys into the “best of the best”. But, I digress…
Act of Valor does features several things that other action films do not. First thing that comes to mind were its briefing sequences and preparation for SEAL operations. Again, I wish they went more into this stuff as the film does shift after their first mission to show these less and concentrate more on getting boots on the ground. It also demonstrates the SEAL versatility in combat. At several points, their plan of action gets altered in combat and they have to adapt to these changes. Also, there is also a whole hell of a lot of reloading in Act of Valor. Something people don’t usually know is that assault rifles and sub-machine guns eat up ammo, fast. Even with top-notch trigger discipline, which these guys have in spades, ammo gets eaten up quickly. The soldiers in the film are constantly reloading and utilizing cover and concealment in their movements. When they break from this conduct, it is only because of exigent circumstances requiring it (I can’t elaborate as to which circumstances as it would spoil parts of the film). There are some cheesy CGI interface elements that are put in place in-between the film’s various action sequences which I don’t think helped sell it as realistic. These were way more reminiscent of a Call of Duty loading screen than something you would associate with real-world military.
Act of Valor also suffers, at times, from a lack of audience-character connection due to the amateur acting ability of the SEALs. All things considered, I think they did a damn fine job. However, casual movie-goers might not understand why these “actors” are often times wooden. Despite this sometimes wooden delivery, you do eventually care for the soldiers and their mission – it just takes a little longer than films staring “normal” actors.
The script was penned by “300” writer Kurt Johnstad and is very straight-forward. Some reviews have called it cliche or simple but history and real life prove that, sometimes, simple plans work best. There are some very angry people out there looking to share that pain and terror with the world and they do indeed use explosives and suicide bombers to accomplish this. Thankfully, the film’s main villain “Shabal” is well-written and given enough screen time that you understand why he is doing what he is. Shabal is portrayed by Jason Cottle (Wag the Dog) and at one point his disdain and disbelief at what a long-time friend is trying to do is almost palpable. The film also slips in some other actors in key plot points to help float everything along in that department. Unfortunately, they chose to under-use character actor Nestor Serrano (Bad Boys, Lethal Weapon 2).
I appreciated that Act of Valor is much less about jingoism and over-the-top nationalism as it is about the SEALs themselves, their warrior ethos, and their missions on a small unit level. You will not see huge battle sequences in Act of Valor with whole armies, patriotic music, and vehicles that seemingly-explode when hit only with a rock. This is not a Michael Bay film. It is not a recruitment picture. In fact, some of the film’s sequences which, in normal movies, would have been accompanied by climatic music or haughty dialog are refreshing and realistically handled. The interrogation sequence is exceptionally well-written and indicative of this. The interrogator, a character referred to as “Senior”, first tries to garner a rapport with the subject in custody and then things unfold in what seems to be a very real-world way.
Overall, I would recommend Act of Valor without question. I will end this review with a quote from Tacitus (Greek Senator and Historian) which is displayed at the end of Act of Valor:
“In valor there is hope.”