Runtime: 1 HR, 51 MIN
Director: Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh
Starring: Nameless Active Duty Navy Seals & Real Actors With Names You Won’t Recognize
Film Rating: 2 out of 5
A lot of emphasis has been made about the use of real Navy Seals as the stars of Act of Valor along with the authentic weapons and tactics featured in the film. When I hear keywords like “authentic” my mind automatically starts to think of uncomplimentary words like “stale” and “dry” and when you have real Navy Seals as the stars I start to think of military propaganda. So is Act of Valor an entertaining film based in reality or large budgeted recruitment film?
The plot of Act of Valor is a secondary concern to the realism the filmmakers are trying to capture. Act of Valor has more in common with a Modern Warfare video game than it does any conventional military film I’ve ever seen. The Seals are whipped around the world at a dizzying speed to fight American hating Arab and Euro-trash terrorists all around the globe. This is done with all the finesse of a major platform video game without any prompting to save your game between levels while firmly nailing home the pro-American, pro-family, and most importantly the pro-Navy Seal message.
Technically Act of Valor is badass and delivers riveting action in spades. On more than one occasion I was impressed with the realistic stunt work which showcased some interesting military maneuvers and technology that I had never seen outside of programming seen on the Military Channel. Audiences that have grown tired of endless hand held camera usage that is sometime nauseating won’t find any relief here but I thought it accomplished what it was aiming to do which was put ‘you’ into the action. Where the action stumbles is with the first person footage that really hits home the Modern Warfare feel of the film. I’ve never been a big fan of gun mounted camera footage since it screams “gimmicky” to me and Act of Valor did little to change that opinion. The good aspects of the action far outweigh the gimmicky aspects and in a film that relies so heavily on the action that’s important.
Where Act of Valor falls flat is with its script and acting. A “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” conundrum is created by 300 writer Kurt Johnstad’s and the Navy Seals/actors. My causality dilemma follows the logic that Navy Seals are bad actors to begin with and that a cliché ridden script does them no favors and makes their acting seem even worse. I feel bad criticizing real soldiers for not having much acting talent but there’s no way around the fact that when the Seals are forced to act with words and not guns Act of Valor feels like a big budget America’s Most Wanted segment. Making matters worse is the film is peppered with real actors which makes you feel like you’re watching three different films; a clichéd military film with really bad actors, a film about terrorists with real actors, and a well made action film with real soldiers. It’s a very disjointed experience which as a whole doesn’t work well together.
I’m not sure if any screenwriter would have been able to write a script that the Seals would have been able to make work. The Navy Seals have particular skills that make them excellent Navy Seals but not good actors just as some real actors have the skills to be great actors but if they were soldiers they would only be cannon fodder. Casting real Navy Seals did add authenticity to the action but their amateur acting robbed the film of realism everywhere else.
I’d be remiss not to mention that at least one real Navy Seal had some decent acting chops. The bearded team leader that interrogates the Euro-trash bad guy is a downright joy to watch especially compared to his fellow Seals. I dunno if he’s a better actor because he has to ‘play’ a role when interrogating in real life but he was the only Seal with significant lines that didn’t immediately remind me of the fact that I was watching a film filled with amateur actors.
Act of Valor isn’t a terrible film but a terrible mistake was made by casting real soldiers to play the leads instead of seasoned actors. The action sequences throughout the film are engaging and the stunt work is well executed but the film suffers from a clichéd plot, cringe worthy dialogue delivered by amateur actors, and a slightly propagandist tone. Keep your expectations in check; go and enjoy action but don’t be surprised if you’re rolling your eyes a lot once everyone holsters their weapons.
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