Act of Valor (2012) sold itself as “an unprecedented blend of real-life heroism and original filmmaking.” This blend comes from using real Navy SEALs to star as themselves, with some scenes featuring Hollywood actors portraying terrorists or CIA agents (the only actor I recognized was Roselyn Sanchez). This seems like a cool idea to pitch to movie producers eager to tap into underserved movie audiences. You are part of that audience if you are looking for flattering portrayals of American Military (aka “patriotic”), you believe we are the best country in the history of the world, and you like your film to have an uncomplicated (aka trite) message (aka propaganda) confirming that we are the best country in the world with the best military.
I won’t be able to say much original about this movie that you couldn’t read more or less on Rotten Tomatoes. First of all, although it may have been unprecedented to use Navy SEALs, it wasn’t necessarily wise. If you want an unprecedented look at our military at war, find yourself a copy of Restrepo (2010). The SEALs are quite capable of acting their way through the action scenes, yet they are given way too much exposition in this film. It is the worst acting in film history (ok, maybe not the worst), and really just made me think that a porno was going to break out at any second. I appreciate the commitment to the concept of using the real people, but at some point someone should have thrown in a real actor to carry some of the scenes that are full of wooden soldiers delivering wooden dialogue, woodenly.
As for the action scenes, many people have praised them as being the positive aspect of the film. The scene where they extract a CIA agent from a terrorist jungle outpost is well done, and exciting on some level. But it also seems to be inspired by video games like Call of Duty more than any other films. You will have traditional action scenes, which are well done and orchestrated, broken up by the camera switching to the viewpoint of a SEAL, much like a first person shooter. Also, you get an aerial view of the river boats that are part of the rescue operation that is directly above the action. It’s shot in a way that reminds me of Age of Empires or other real-time strategy games from the past. It makes sense that Act of Valor received a Movie: Action nomination for the Teen Choice awards. The first action scene also is the best. Unfortunately the last action scene, where the SEALs are deployed just south of the Mexican border to stop terrorists entering the country, is underwhelming, full of cliches (such as one man sacrificing himself to save the lives of his fellow soldiers), and for a film touting its realism, feels a bit false, as if it belongs to an ’80’s action flick.
The plot is fairly standard. The recovered CIA agent found information that helps the SEAL team track a group of Chechen-backed terrorists who are scheming to enter the United States and blow themselves up using vests with undetectable explosives. Actual actors help you keep interest in a storyline that at times ventures into being good enough to be the basis for a season of 24. But seeing that 24 alone had dealt with similar material to varying degrees of effectiveness for 9 seasons, I needed a bit more from the movie. For example, having identifiable characters with charisma would have been a start. Every single SEAL in this movie (with the exception of the token non-Caucasians) just seems like some guy you would see at an OC beach.
I prefer the realism of fictional movies, such as Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, Jar Head, even Saving Private Ryan, over this film. Using “real” people doesn’t make for a more realistic, visceral experience for the viewer. Especially when you have nothing new or interesting to say. Catch the movie if you are a fan of military action; otherwise, skip it. It will be leaving streaming tomorrow at any rate.
My IMDB rating: 5 out of 10
My Netflix rating: 2 out of 5