Review: Act of Valor
PLOT: A Navy SEAL team is sent to rescue an undercover CIA agent, who alerts them to a terrorist plot to deploy suicide bombers throughout the US, through a drug cartel-run secret cross-border tunnel in Mexico.
REVIEW: ACT OF VALOR is a film I had deep reservations about. Directed by the “Bandito Brothers”, Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, who are well-known and respected for their documentaries DUST TO GLORY, and STEP INTO LIQUID, ACT OF VALOR is a film made in full cooperation with Naval Special Warfare, and actually features former active duty Navy SEALS in the lead roles. Naturally, given the close relationship between the filmmakers and the SEALS, the finished product is essentially a SEAL recruiting film. It’s not that different from the types of films John Wayne used to star in during his heyday, so if you’re expecting a gritty, nuanced look at the life of a Navy SEAL, you’re not going to get it here.
However, if what you want are a whole bunch of high-octane, ultra realistic action scenes faithfully depicting real combat missions (although the storyline is fictional)- ACT OF VALOR delivers exactly that. As an action film, ACT OF VALOR is successful, as the two major operations depicted are incredible to watch. Some of the stuff that goes down is completely bug nuts insane, and the idea that things like a guy being hit in the chest by a rocket that turns out to be a dud are real just blows your mind. The action sequences are brutal (this baby’s R-rated), free of Hollywood cheese, and never less than thrilling.
But once the firefights stop, that’s when the problems with ACT OF VALOR become apparent. First, the SEALS that star in the film are great in the action scenes, but to a man their acting is pretty stilted and awkward. Granted, they aren’t professional actors, but I’m puzzled as to why the Bandito Brothers were so insistent on casting real SEALS in all the lead roles, as they could have cast legit actors and just had them doubled in the action scenes. Their casting feels gimmicky.
As the guys are all retired from active duty, none of them are credited by their real names- and they’re all listed only by their rank, and the code names assigned to their characters in the film. In some ways, this reminds me of a great old British SAS movie called WHO DARES WINS, which listed the SAS consultants as ??? It all looks pretty slick in the press notes and on screen, but as their faces are on display for millions to see, is it anything more than a publicity stunt them not using their names?
Being produced in full cooperation with the U.S Armed Forces, you should also expect a pretty two-dimensional look at the Navy SEAL lifestyle. To a man, they’re all happily married family men, free of any character flaws or bad habits. This is probably the image the Armed Forces want to represent, but at a certain point this stops being a film, and becomes a recruiting tool- especially in the ultra-patriotic wrap-up. Heck, the Navy even apparently had final cut privileges (according to Wikipedia), and I never like the feeling that what I’m watching is pure propaganda.
But, the fact remains that the action scenes, which are the real reason anyone’s even talking about this film in the first place, are pretty dynamic. Technically, the film is pretty polished, and looks mighty good for something that reportedly only cost $15 million to produce. The Bandito Brothers certainly have a future in making action films, although it remains to be seen whether they can craft a film where the storyline is anything other than an excuse to jump from one set piece to the next.
If you like military-style action films, I’m pretty sure that you’ll enjoy ACT OF VALOR, although I’d urge anyone that goes to see this to keep in mind that it’s propaganda. Something like Katherine Bigelow’s upcoming SEAL film is probably more to my tastes, but as a purely visceral experience, it can’t be denied that ACT OF VALOR kinda works.