I salute the Navy SEALs (and all personnel in the United States Armed Forces). They keep us safe, get the bad guys, and many make the ultimate sacrifice. They are heroes one and all. But can they act in a motion picture?
Written by: Kurt Johnstad
Starring: Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez and Nestor Serrano
In “Act of Valor,” the rock and roll tribute to Navy SEALs who counter an array of national security threats around the world, actual SEALs star in the film. Unfortunately, there are no budding Audie Murphy’s or R. Lee Ermey’s among them. When the SEALs are in action they are entirely believable and compelling, but when authentic pathos in the form of non-fighting dialogue is required of them they come up short.
But it really matters little because the point of this movie is not to delve into the inner lives of the characters too much. “Act of Valor” is about kicking terrorist ass, and in that regard it delivers like a well-placed shot from an assault rifle. If you like guns, equipment, technology, and double taps to the head this movie has it all. We travel the world with a SEAL team which, at first, simply rescues a hostage from a terrorist camp. At the camp, however, they recover intelligence that leads to something much, much bigger, and they then race from Asia to the South Pacific to Mexico to neutralize the threat.
In this movie, there’s no shortage of sky diving, submarines, Chinook helicopters, UAVs, exotic firearms, mountains, deserts, and so much more. At times I thought I was watching the kind of military recruitment advertisement that one sees on NFL Sundays. There’s no question that films like this have the cooperation of the Department of Defense, but “Act of Valor” also capitalizes on the gaming trend, and frequently the audience’s point of view is similar to what one would see in a video game such as “Call of Duty.”
I’m guessing the reason for casting real SEALs was mainly to hype the film, but I think it was a mistake. I have no doubt they make the battle scenes more realistic, but I did not notice any more technical competence in this movie than I did in, say, Black Hawk Down. Indeed, “Black Hawk Down” used an array of very good, professional actors as leads, and the comparison, in that regard, to “Act of Valor” is stark.
“Black Hawk Down” also did not indulge in clichés—the wife and child who seem there solely to set up an eventual tragedy, the heirlooms passed from previous generations of soldiers, and the soldier who jumps on a grenade to save the rest of his squad. In Act of Valor, any depth the producers give to the characters feels contrived (along with the toothpick that dangles from the mouth of the team leader through the whole of the movie). And since the performances aren’t quality enough to give the quieter scenes any life, they feel that much more mannered. By comparison again, “Black Hawk Down” simply felt much more organic and original.
Nevertheless, “Act of Valor’s” production value is enough to keep you engaged throughout—the battle on the river at the terrorist training camp is masterfully filmed and will thrill any war-film junkie.
I do have one plot quibble, and please read no further if you don’t want the story spoiled. I am by no means a geopolitical expert, but I simply don’t see Mexican drug cartels, which have no ideology, wanting to aid suicide bombers hoping to gain entry into the United States. This is where the entire film leads and ends up, with the SEALs tracking down would-be suicide bombers as they attempt to cross into tunnels on the southern border with the help of the cartels. The cartels exist to make money off drugs, so why would they risk bringing down the wrath of the entire American military apparatus by helping some radical jihadist? Is there some of this activity on our southern border and in Latin America? I’m pretty sure there is, but I’m not sure it would receive major cartel support and the sacrifice of dozens of their fighters, which is what happens in the final shoot out.
“Act of Valor” is an interesting glimpse into what the Navy SEALs do around the world, and it’s probably no coincidence this movie comes just a short time after SEAL Team Six found and killed Osama Bin Laden. If you are looking for a wild, two hour ride, then this is your movie. If you’re looking for a memorable war film in the mold of “The Dirty Dozen,” “Platoon,” or “Black Hawk Down,” then you’re best off returning to base, mission not accomplished.