Even the most jaded American has to admit that the Navy SEALs are the biggest bad-ass action heroes that our nation has to offer in real life. Aside from the fact that they represent our most elite fighting force, part of the mystique is that we, the general public, know very little about their inner workings. Ever since SEAL Team Six found and killed Osama bin Laden last year, it seemed inevitable that a flurry of SEAL-centric movies would soon follow. What was unexpected, however, was that the first of these would be a film that had already been in production for years, and that answers the question, “Okay, so Navy SEALs kick ass -- but can they act??”
ACT OF VALOR stars active-duty SEALs and depicts fictional scenarios that are based on real-life missions. The techniques, procedures, technology and terminology that appear on screen are all said to be 100% legit. Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh spent years working with these men to get the details as accurate as possible. At times, the soldiers had to leave the set to go off on their own real-life missions, which is an unthinkable proposition. Imagine filming FORREST GUMP and suddenly Tom Hanks gets called away on a mission in which he could conceivably be killed? As an idea, this film is intriguing to say the least.
Unfortunately, as a major motion picture that requires things like “plot” and “dialogue” and “acting,” it fails pretty severely. These guys (most of whom remain nameless for the sake of national security) are true heroes who deserve our respect and admiration, but man... they can’t act for shite. When even the slightest bit of acting talent is required, the film grinds to an uncomfortable halt. There are many melodramatic moments amidst the action -- farewells with family members, bonding moments with brothers-at-arms, feeble attempts at character development -- and it gets to be downright cringe-worthy. Not that these guys were given Oscar-caliber material to work with: It’s one thing when dialogue is rife with military-jargon, since that’s sort of the point. But those melodramatic moments are often preachy and sentimental and dripping with every patriotic cliché in the book. At times it almost feels like a recruitment video in disguise -- I half expected to hear that subliminal song from that one Simpsons episode in the background: “Yvan eht nioj!”
Of course, the combat scenes are the real selling point, and they are definitely intense, loaded with brutal, bloody, unrelenting firefights. But even these are occasionally cheapened by a distinct video game feel, from the use of first-person perspective to the very way the plot is constructed. There’s a mission description (“Rescue kidnapped CIA agent!” GO!), then the mission, then you beat the mission and there’s a cut scene telling some semblance of a story along with an explanation of the next mission. Level 2 is next with higher stakes (“Uncover and prevent potential terrorist attack on U.S. soil!” GO!), and so on, until you finally beat the game. If it wasn’t for the whole “real-life Navy SEALs” thing, they could have called this CALL OF DUTY: THE MOVIE without changing very much.
I actually enjoyed the build-up to some of the action more than anything else. There’s a particularly tense sequence in which the SEALs are slowly, quietly converging on their target. They begin to snipe down various armed guards, including one standing on the edge of a pier. But before the body can splash into the water, potentially alerting other guards, a SEAL who was hiding underwater catches the body and lowers it in without a sound. If only the rest of the movie could have been as effective.
If nothing else, ACT OF VALOR is a big, flag-waving crowd-pleaser that gives our nation’s ultimate warriors a moment in the cinematic spotlight. It is in no way a good movie, but if you can allow yourself to overlook, well, pretty much everything except the combat scenes, and if you are intrigued by the idea of peeking behind the Navy SEAL curtain, there may be an enjoyable movie-watching experience in there somewhere. Let’s just hope these guys haven’t been bitten by the acting bug and quit their day jobs, or we’re in big trouble in more ways than one.