Act of Valor
Release Date: February 24, 2012
Directors: Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh
Writer: Kurt Johnstad
Stars: Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez and Nestor Serrano
MPAA Rating: R
Thanks to the use of real active duty US Navy SEALS in the lead roles, the makers of Act of Valor give moviegoers a unique cinematic experience. Unfortunately, they just don’t actually give the audience a very good film.
Act of Valor tells the story of an elite SEAL team tasked with rescuing a CIA asset who has been kidnapped, a mission that uncovers a deeper plot posing a great threat to Americans. Terrorist Christo (Alex Veadov) has obtained a collection of untraceable explosive vests that he plans to smuggle into the United States to set off at various densely populated areas. The SEALS have to track down Christo and his men to stop the plot in time.
The film claims to be “inspired by true events,” though that’s often Hollywood speak for “we made most of this up.” Whether Christo’s plan is based on a real terrorist plot or not, there isn’t much subtlety in the film’s storyline. The good guys are clearly good and the bad guys are clearly bad. The film is also filled with most of the normal war film tropes, like the teary goodbye with the wife, the letter to a fallen comrades’ young son and the selfless act of bravery to save the rest of the squad.
The writers never really fleshed out the characters in the film. And because of the acting limitations of the SEALS, the characters don’t have any added depth or nuance trained actors could have provided. The quiet, emotional scenes never quite ring true and often end up feeling a bit trite. Line deliveries are generally wooden and forced. Many of the SEALS with smaller parts deliver lines as if they are simply trying to remember all of the words and get them out in the correct order. (Perhaps by design, the actual actors in the movie don’t give performances that are much better.) Mostly, you just find yourself waiting for the next big action sequence whenever a dialogue-heavy emotional scene comes on.
The one notable standout is the man who plays Master Chief (the names of the SEALS who appear in the film have not been released since they are all active duty). He is by far the most relaxed on camera and he has a natural screen presence. His interrogation of Christo is by far the best non-action scene in the movie.
The writers don’t help things much either. Most of the dialogue and plot points are incredibly cliched and not particularly well-written. The scenes that have the most emotional resonance are the ones that go easy on the dialogue and simply show these men doing what they would actually do in the situation. There is one touching scene where the surviving SEAL members stick their pins to their fallen brother’s casket during his military funeral, an authentic moment which carries a lot more weight than anything written by the makers of the film.
Of course, the moment where the SEALS and the filmmakers shine are during the action sequences. Using real Navy SEALS and the actual equipment and weapons they use on missions does add a level of authenticity to the film. They way they move and operate is something that Hollywood rarely can or even seeks to genuinely recreate. Watching the SEALS work as a team to take out their targets is truly a joy.
Wisely, the filmmakers borrow heavily from the Modern Warfare video games in the aesthetic of the action sequences. There are a lot of first-person POV shots which make you feel like you are moving as part of the SEAL team. And even the map sequences that show you when the team deploys to a new location look like something out of the Modern Warfare games. That’s certainly going to win them brownie points with the younger demographic.
The film would have been better served adopting a faux documentary style. The non-action scripted scenes could have been abandoned in favor of talking head interviews with the SEALS setting up the mission we are about to witness. The filmmakers could have also given the SEALS leeway to set things up in their own words instead of having to deliver word-for-word dialogue from the script, which would have helped them sound more natural. It also would have spared us from the cliched dramatic scenes, which are clearly not this team’s forte.
Still, if you are interested in the SEALS or simply looking for some fun, mindless action, you’ll probably still enjoy this film (and be willing to look the other way with regards to the acting and script problems). It’s by no means a great film, but it is a unique filmgoing experience.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.