Rating: R (for strong violence including some torture, and for language)
Length: 1 hour 41 minutes
Release Date: February 24, 2012
Directed by: Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama
Stars: 3 out of 5
One thing about this movie is obvious: it’s an amazing recruitment video. Originally commissioned by the United States Navy as just that, “Act of Valor” has a somewhat more difficult time proving itself capable of being a full-length, Hollywood production. The most unique aspect of the film is that it stars real-life Navy SEALs, not Hollywood actors, and this really serves to set the tone of the film. As can be expected from having non-actors in the spotlight, the acting is a bit stiff at times, and the dialogue cheesy. The scenes of the SEALs at home with their families leap to mind, with their words coming directly from the script and not the heart. It’s apparent that their busy lives as soldiers leave little time for acting rehearsal. However, having actual, active-duty military personnel does provide one important benefit: the action scenes are brilliantly displayed.
From the Philippines to Central America, “Act of Valor” always outdoes itself with its action sequences. It’s also during those moments that the cast really shines; one can practically feel all of the intense training that these men have undergone as they momentarily forget that they’re starring in a movie. When they switch into SEAL mode, the audience is treated to a display of the unrestrained, highly-trained precision that being an elite military operative provides, and it certainly shows. Another positive spin of the film is that it really showcases the teamwork of the group, as opposed to many blockbuster action movies with one-man army protagonists. One stark example of this is when a sniper on the team takes out a bad guy, only to have the body fall onto the waiting hands of a SEAL submerged in the river, to keep the splash from alerting the other bad guys.
With its R rating, “Act of Valor” is no family film. Although tragedies do transpire, such as the heroic sacrifice of one of the SEALs to save his teammates, the true horrors of war are only vaguely touched upon. Post-traumatic stress disorder is never mentioned, nor are countless other sad realities of war. Instead, the story is presented as a distinct tale of good versus evil, shown from one side and one side only. This does serve to highlight just how heroic and resolute our SEAL protagonists are, as they take bullets through eyes and leap upon grenades to save one another, but the cost is a noticeable decline in realism.
One endearing aspect of the film is the superb editing and well-directed fight scenes. Many scenes were filmed from helmet cams planted on the cast, and the directors always seemed to know when best to show the action from these perspectives. We’re able to see what the battles the men go through in real life are like, and it provides much-appreciated insight into their experience. The battles themselves are quite well-edited, rivaling those of any mainstream, big-budget production. Though, perhaps the film could have used a few less generic explosions, and a few more of the excellently choreographed team maneuvers.
The villains of the series are, unfortunately, quite black-and-white. While our heroes sip beers on the beach and think of their loved ones back home, the villains of the story are partying on ultra-expensive yachts with nameless bikini babes. The story also never really goes into much detail about the connection between the various criminals who are shown. The terrorists are working with the drug dealers, we know that much, but the reasons given are flimsy and unsupported. While it’s not necessary to have well-written antagonists in this sort of story, the villains seem almost like Saturday morning cartoon characters. The terrorist is all about jihad and not much else, while the drug dealer seems only to desire a never-ending supply of luxury boats and floozies.
It’s important to not take “Act of Valor” too seriously, as it certainly doesn’t see itself in that light. It’s a movie that knows exactly what it’s about: brave U.S. Navy SEALs keeping America safe and the terrorists and other criminals at bay through sheer fortitude and strength of will. The characters, poorly acted as they may be, are still endearing because of their status as actual Navy SEALs. At its heart, this film is still the amazing Navy SEALs recruitment video that it began as, and remains faithful to the men and women who it represents to the very end, even listing in the credits the names of all of the fallen Navy soldiers who have died since the attacks on 9/11.