Cert: 15 Runtime: 110 mins Director: Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh Starring: Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez and Nestor Serrano
That last night at home, you think about how you could of been a better dad, a better husband, that bedtime story you should of read, or that anniversary you forgot. You don’t expect your family to understand what you’re doing. You just hope they understand you’re doing it for them, and when you get home you hope you can pick-up right where you left off.
After hearing the premise of this film, I was very slightly intrigued of the concept of Act of Valor.Act of Valor is a film that had an uncommon genesis. Originally, the film’s directors, Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, had intended to make a recruitment film for the U.S. Navy SEALs program. The filmmakers were embedded with real U.S. Navy SEALs for research. It was decided that actors could not accurately portray a SEAL for the movie they wanted to make, so actual SEALs were employed to be in the picture. These real-life service members in this film do not reveal their full names in the credits and still remain anonymous.Act of Valor follows the heroic acts of a group of highly skilled and extremely versatile SEALs in two story lines. The first story focuses on the liberation of a captured CIA operative. The second story centers on drug cartels planning to sneak terrorists into the U.S. through tunnels in Mexico.The actions of the SEALs are narrated in past tense by a man known only as “Chief Dave.” We meet a majority of the SEAL team at a beach campfire get together. This sequence is the closest you’ll get to any real human backstory on any of the SEALs. We get a sense of bonding and camaraderie and we genuinely believe the group can function as a well oiled machine. We also learn the lieutenant in charge of this group is an expectant father. These scenes are no doubt present to humanize the characters, though these scenes do feel a little contrived.
Act of Valor is primarily a straightforward action picture. What works best are the scenes of the SEAL team engaging in covert operations and combat. These parts, which are bountiful, are meticulously thought out and well executed. You see these professionals track down the bad guys and see them strategically position their team before carrying out their mission. Case in point: There is a scene where a sniper in the trees coordinates his next move with the pair of hands which rise up from the river behind a baddie on the pier. Without giving the entire scene away, that sequence was one of absolute brilliance.Principal photography for Act of Valor took place in Cambodia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Florida, San Diego and Mississippi. All of these locations underscore the SEALs global presence and the quick response capabilities. “Act of Valor” easily has the best photography in a military themed movie since Apocalypse Now (1979). Woodland scenes are lush and the scenes where the sunset is reflected on the water are nicely done. If anyone ever assembled a collection of stills from this movie, they would have the basis for a striking coffee table book.All this aside, is Act of Valor any good? Well, I have to be honest. This movie was originally going to be a recruiting tool for the military and it shows. Patriotism and adherence to a credo of honor are heavy in this film. These are not faults by any means. However, these factors are about all you are going to get from this feature. If you are hoping to get a movie that is engaging as a thriller with deep characters and plot twists, this isn’t that movie.There’s a scene where the bearded senior chief petty officer interrogates an apprehended drug lord who’s aiding in the terrorist effort. You see the two men work off of each other’s dialog. There’s no backstory on either men. I’m sure the senior chief is one tough hombre and is a force to be reckoned with. Without a background story to make this guy a more formidable presence, his scene is all about defensive posturing. It’s a missed opportunity to make the scene far more intense and meaningful.
Many action sequences in Act of Valor reminded me of the first-person shooter perspective common in video games. Several scenes are framed with the stationary end of a machine gun going back and forth taking out the bad guys. You see the gun’s magazine replaced and the gunfire resume all in a continuous shot (pun). Whenever a character is introduced, you get a digital schematic on the screen that reads with their rank, last name, number of combat tours served and the commands they were attached to. Likewise, when a ship is presented, you get a tactical read of the ship’s name and its longitude and latitude. After I saw the movie, I learned the film’s trailer was shown on a video game website for Battlefield 3 with free downloadable I.D. tags for the game. I think I see the film’s marketing strategy here.I suspect Act of Valor will be popular with the right audience. The movie will certainly be a conversation piece about the SEALs. Their hard efforts and sacrifices are not in dispute here. “Act of Valor” showcases SEALs very positively and there are great production values throughout. Apart from that, the on screen story lacks any real human interest, which hinders one from being really drawn in. If the filmmakers had infused more heart into movie, you would have had more than an extended pro-SEAL mockudrama. Though this film is a little flat as an actual “movie-movie,” I am convinced it will generate SEAL awareness and keep people talking. That’s the best it can do.