Directed by: Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh
Premise: A Navy SEAL team attempts to stop a terrorist attack.
What Works: The first thing to understand about Act of Valor is that it is a recruitment film, a two-hour commercial for the armed services. Understood in that way, Act of Valor is an attempt to celebrate the bravery, professionalism, and patriotism of American soldiers in general and the SEALs in particular, and the film is successful in doing that. The highlights of Act of Valor are found in the action scenes, which are well done. The picture shows a lot of influence from filmmakers like Michael Bay and Tony Scott in its style. Whatever there other faults, both Bay and Scott consistently create films with striking, muscular imagery and the filmmakers of Act of Valor do that as well. An early action set piece in which the SEAL team rescues a CIA informant shows off the filmmakers’ skill as the picture uses sound effectively and sets up and executes the action of the scene in ways that are very exciting and entirely coherent. Taken as a jingoistic action film, which is exactly what it is trying to be, Act of Valor is an exciting thrill ride.
What Doesn’t: Act of Valor demonstrates some strong cinematic craft but it has serious shortcomings as a dramatic motion picture. The film is very uneven. The action scenes are done very well but the dramatic scenes aren’t nearly as good. The audio in these scenes is poor and they aren’t very well shot, often looking and sounding as though they were added as an afterthought to string together the action sequences. The acting in the film is stiff and off-key, especially among the American military characters. The publicity materials for Act of Valor emphasize that the film includes actual Navy SEALs among the cast and while that does give the film some credibility, this is not a documentary and viewers don’t go to a dramatic motion picture too see something literally real; a film is a representation of reality and professional actors would have been a better choice. Although the casting of real SEALs was intended to give the film a greater degree of authenticity it actually makes the picture look fake because the wooden acting disrupts the viewer’s experience. There is an important aspect of Act of Valor’s militarism that needs to be considered in formulating an opinion about this film. The picture reflects and utilizes the militarism of contemporary Hollywood action cinema seen in films like Michael Bay’s Transformers pictures, Tony Scott’s Top Gun, and Jonathan Liebesman’s Battle: Los Angeles. In that respect, Act of Valor is a literal version of Team America: World Police, which was a parody of (among other things) American imperialism and Hollywood militarism. This picture does quite a number of things that Team America parodied and does them without a shred of irony. What that reveals about Act of Valor is its simplicity. Like equivalent films that Hollywood has released over the years, from Objective: Burma! to Missing in Action to Saving Jessica Lynch, this film was made to show support for those who serve in the armed forces. That is not inherently a bad thing but because the narrative of Act of Valor is so thin, that agenda stands out in relief and there just isn’t more to the picture than that. In the end, this film will make the viewer feel sentimental about the troops but it does not lead the viewer to a meaningful conclusion about sacrifice, patriotism, or warfare.
Bottom Line: Act of Valor isn’t a bad movie. In many respects it is a much better action film than a lot of recent entries in the genre. But it is guilty of pandering and has more in common with video games like Call of Duty than it does with war pictures like Saving Private Ryan.
Episode: #379 (March 11, 2012)