Act of Valor

'Act of Valor' saved a fortune on hiring actor consultants by just throwing real SEALs into their flick. Photo courtesy Relativity Media

Anytime a film comes out with a huge gimmick attached to it, most moviegoers cringe in anticipation. Rarely does a movie that was made with seemingly only the intention of making money deliver a worthwhile experience. And when a mass-release film sells the fact that it stars “active-duty Navy SEALs” as much as Act of Valor has in the weeks leading up to its opening today, you can almost be certain it was done with dollar signs in mind.

But Act of Valor manages to deliver on the money you pay. A movie that combines balls-out action with the grittiness of war, this is one gimmick that has some bite to its bark.

Act of Valor follows, for the most part, the deployment of SEAL Team 7 to various locales around the globe in a multi-pronged effort to stop a single terrorist attack (even though that one attack has multiple targets on U.S. soil). As they go from Central American jungles to African deserts, the brave men of the Navy SEALs fight relentlessly to stop suicide bombers from attacking the homeland.

The end result is a feature-length tour de force in action filmmaking. Utilizing just about every type of exciting action scene ever used (car chases, hand-to-hand combat, shootouts, sniper fire, etc.), Act of Valor pulls no punches in delivering an overwhelmingly awesome product. In fact, in the first half of the movie, a hostage rescue mission forms the foundation of what could quite possibly be one of the best action scenes ever put into a major film.

Act of Valor

Who hasn't climbed atop a deployed submarine off the coast of Africa? Photo courtesy Relativity Media.

Complimenting the action directives is some very cool cinematography.  Act of Valor masters the art of the wide-sweeping angle to encompass all that is the United States military, and works really well with a story that incorporates just about all major aspects of the U.S. armed forces into this modern day war story. The only drawback in the camerawork is the ubiquitous use of the “first person shooter” camera angle that undoubtedly tries to piggyback on the massive success of the “Call of Duty” video game series (which has often been called ‘cinematic’ itself). The behind-the-gun-sights visuals gets old quickly and you really would rather watch the action unfold from a more omnipotent view.

Unfortunately, what really stops Act of Valor from evolving from a really good movie into a really great movie, however, is some very poor  acting. No one is blaming the men and women of the armed forces for not being able to find time to hone what is obviously a useless craft to them, but the producers and directors of Act of Valor should have realized this problem earlier and done more to compensate for it.

One thing that is attempted is the injection of real actors into the film. Lost in all the “starring active-duty Navy SEALs” ploys is the fact that the film does costar Roselyn Sanchez (of ‘Without a Trace’ fame) and action flick stalwarts Alex Veadov and Nestor Serrano. ‘Sons of Anarchy’ fans will even recognize a cameo appearance by Emilio Rivera (who plays Marcus Alvarez in the top-rated FX drama).

These actors had the potential to save the SEALs in the few skills they lack, but the movie unfortunately kills one, kidnaps another, and makes a shadowy super villain out of the third. Needless to say, they aren’t in this movie for very long.

The one really great performance done on the behalf of the film’s “SEAL Team 7” is the man in the role of “Senior”, basically a just-off-the-front-lines commander for the SEAL Team. His ability to naturally step in front of the camera to deliver a memorable performance in an albeit limited role really adds a special subtext to the movie.

Outside of the stiff acting the only other real bothersome part of the movie were a couple of histrionics added in post-production to give the movie a “techy, futuristic” feel. The piping hot lead and stone cold tactics of the SEALs are enough to entertain the average audience member and Act of Valor could have really survived without these particular ruses.

Still, the point of truly successful action movies has never been quality acting. And when typically strong dramatic actors have been thrown into shoot-em-up screenplays (i.e. Helen Mirren in ‘Red’), we’ve seen what disasters can occur. If you’re an acting buff, you’re going to roll your eyes a bit at this one. But it’s worth noting that the performances are still better than some in other movies by people who do act for a living, so don’t let that stop you from going to see this movie. On the plus side, the action sequences in Act of Valor are second to none and you even get a slight dash of comedy for the price of admission. So go out and see this movie, god damn it. Not because it’s worth watching (which it is), but because it is your patriotic duty to do so! Final Grade: B+

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