Act of Valor

Director: Mike McCoy/Scott Waugh

Notable Cast: Roselyn Sanchez, Rorke, Dave, Sonny, Van O, Michael, Ajay, Ray, Weimy

Rating: R

Review:  Lately, my tastes have been guiding me away from the large voice of the general public in mainstream cinema, which scared me senseless given Act of Valor‘s 85% Audience rating and 31% Critic rating on RottenTomatoes.  But the allure of watching actual active-duty Navy Seals play themselves on-screen was far too strong, promising an ultra-realistic action adventure versus unbelievable Hollywood action defying the laws of physics.  Kudos to the men so sick of watching military personnel be misrepresented on-screen to bring some realism and dignity to their lifestyle, but neither director saw the challenges of putting untrained actors center stage?  Many other critics are panning the performances our unnamed cast delivers (full real names were not included), but I applaud these stiff, cardboard characters for watching film after film paint our military without proper technique or mindset and wanting a chance to show the world just what kind of person it takes to protect this great nation.  Act of Valor feels like part living memorial and part pro-military propaganda, agreeing with the overbearing consensus that McCoy/Waugh’s film was envisioned to be the perfect recruitment tool.  Sorry, call me a patriot, but Act of Valor beautifully displayed heroism and brotherhood and evoked such a respect for the parties honored, no matter what cinematic complaints you can raise, I still tip my hat in slight approval.

Based on experiences from the past, Act of Valor follows a Navy Seal squad and a sequence of missions carried out to prevent another major terrorist disaster on United States soil threatened by a drug smuggler and American hating ultra-terrorist.  Starting with the rescue of an abducted CIA agent, our Seals uncover their sick plan of sneaking suicide bombers into America through the Mexican border strapped with high-tech explosive vests capable of creating media mass hysteria and economic collapse.  Act of Valor also gives us a glimpse into the lives of soldiers, and the special blood that pumps through each hero’s veins.  The life of a soldier is not meant for everyone, but Act of Valor gives credit to those who deserve it most.

Realism, right down to the mesh gun camouflage left out of movies to this point….

Being an avid gamer and Call of Duty junkie, I couldn’t help drawing comparisons from the acclaimed video game franchise to McCoy and Waugh’s film.  Nostalgic moments of “hey, that’s a reflex sight on that M4A1 assault rifle!” were fun notions to smirk at, believing video games are actually teaching us something, and helped capture the gravity of a single moment.  Dualy noted, cinematography opted for a first person video game type display to further the connection during some of the mission sequences, and even the gun placement on screen in those moments mimicked the same experience blasting through a campaign mission gave.  Sensical and properly placed when used in Doom, where the actual film was supposed to be drawn from the horror video game franchise, but admittedly not as effective in real war situations, turning Act of Valor into more of a documentary feel than gripping action drama.  Instead of aiding in realism, somehow the rapid first person movement stole from the real soldiers attempts at true portrayal and non Hollywood augmented action.

But the inspiring story with Act of Valor is of course the Navy Seals who stepped in front of the camera.  If I’m to analyze each character, their persona, display of emotion, range of actions, and overall acting ability…yes, painfully obvious was that these soldiers were big screen rookies.  What happens when you stick a bunch of hardened warfare veterans in the spotlight?  A mix of stone-faced expressions, lifeless performances, bad judgement, and wasted opportunities.  That said, why are we tearing apart American heroes who technically wanted to present the American public with truth?  As a judge of film, I’m obligated to say there was nothing worthwhile in the acting department, but as an American, I was riveted by the insurmountable inclusion of camaraderie.  How many times have we seen soldiers depicted as Rambo type rogue warriors abandoning any sense of strategy and focusing just on running and gunning?  Not this time.  Act of Valor holds a touching sense of brotherhood, passion, and dedication Hollywood trades in for high-profile explosions and hunky actors.  No, we were treated to an inside look at sound strategic execution of military planning and combat efficient fighting, which is how our military operates.  War isn’t bout machismo, glory, and showboating…about double wielding weapons and diving around the battlefield.   Act of Valor is a courageous testament to men/women without nerves, who leave for work with no promise of coming home to their loved ones, who fear not death, who protect and serve, and those who have a concrete will a person like me or you wishes we could even comprehend.  Boring, clear-cut, simple point A to point B type missions…might not be cinema gold, but it’s real.  Real powerful.  Real informative.  Real life.

Act of Valor sucks to rate.  Plain and simple.  Apparently easy for some to jump judgement and skewer the well-intentioned yet slackly developed action flick, I’m 100% having an internal struggle in my own head as I type this very paragraph.  Part of me screams “trash it” while my human side wants to immortalize it.  “Good” or “Bad,” Act of Valor had a lasting impression on me.  The next time I see any service member in public, I’ll want nothing more than to buy him/her a drink, a meal, express my gratitude, and I still won’t even touch what recognition such heroism deserves.  That has to count for something, right?  What’s promised is delivered in attention to detail and authenticity, weakly supported by a minimalistic script short on drama and twists that offers little camera value.  Highs and lows spiked drastically up and down the chart, leaving a constant average running right in between this part documentary, part action romp, part recruitment tool…which aptly sums my stance on Act of Valor.

Final Rating: 6.5 hoo-rahs out of 10

Flying is stressful enough, but imagine jumping out of planes for a living?


About Matt Donato

I love all things film. I'll watch any genre, any actor, at any time. This whole film critic thing is a passionate hobby for now which I'm balancing with working in the business world, but hey, someday, who knows?
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