Act of Valor is strangely similar to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America, in that it’s steeped in patriotism (sans the sarcasm and puppet sex), though seemingly unaware of just how cheesy it all comes off. Using active duty Navy SEALs, directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh gambled and went for authenticity in appearance over believability in performance. When it comes to the action elements the gamble paid off, but when it comes to those moments where we’re meant to be convinced these guys are real people it all falls to pieces.
The film begins, first with a message from the directors speaking directly to the audience. We’re given information about the production, the casting of the real SEALs and how live ammunition was used in the action sequences. To the point of the live ammunition, you can actually tell. Some shots of the action, such as an early scene, viewed from above the action as bullets fly back and forth, are incredibly intense and while you can’t necessarily understand the terminology being used as the team communicates between one another, you understand enough that it puts you into the thick of things.
However, problems arise when the gunfire ceases and strategies aren’t being implemented. I can honestly say I walked out of the film not remembering a single one of the characters’ names. The extent of my relationship with any of these guys was to refer to one of them as “the one with the kid” and another as “his friend.”
Written by Kurt Johnstad (300), there’s an attempt to make the emotional core of the film larger than the brotherhood felt between the SEALs on the job and extend it outside to the family. This isn’t to say the story they attempted to tell was ridiculous or outside the scope of believability, it was simply more than needed or should have been told considering the “actors” they chose to use.
Where these guys do excel emotionally is in the heat of the battle. When life and death struggles depend on their movements and being where they need to be or pulling a wounded member of their squad from the battle and getting him home safely. This camaraderie was genuine and authentic, but the moment an attempt is made to make it “cinematic” all authenticity and/or realism goes out the window.
Then there’s the plot, which is so big and over the top it’s nothing short of a first person video game brought to life. For the gamers out there, this is “Call of Duty: The Feature Film”. After all, it’s not as if video games feature the greatest of acting, even when they reach out to Sam Worthington and Kiefer Sutherland to voice their characters.
Bouncing from the Philippines, to Chechnya to the Ukraine, Somalia and Mexico the story begins with the rescue of a kidnapped CIA operative and, using her intel, a worldwide manhunt begins for a terrorist seeking to smuggle suicide bombers into the United States wearing newfangled explosive vests that will wreck havoc wherever they are detonated. To accomplish all of this in an hour and 40 minute running time and with the same team flying all over the globe from one impossible mission to the next bleeds a lot of believability, but it certainly keeps things moving.
This may be one of the most action-packed films you’re going to see this year and these guys come at you from every possible angle, be it parachuting over the desert or hitching a ride on a submarine just before it heads back to the depths. One thing is for certain, after watching you’ll be saying, “Damn, I pray to God these guys are never coming after me.”
The main thing I question is how accurate it all is. Would the same guys be doing all of these missions back-to-back-to-back? I’m no military strategist, but I would assume different teams would be involved with each mission. Then again, what do I know? All I can say is that if you’re going to sell me realism, and do so with a featurette before the film, give me all the facts.
Reading the production notes, the directors talk about using real Navy SEALs for their “look”, “intensity” and “aura” and I will never deny they have that in spades. The film also does a decent job exploring what it means for the families of these heroic men when they have to deploy, but what isn’t captured is a true emotional connection with the audience. Combine that with the over the top bravado, the by-the-numbers result of each scene and the terrible climactic sequence — “Greeee-naaaaaa-dddddde!” — and you really, for lack of a better description, have a pretty bad film.