Act of Valor

Virtually the entire marketing campaign for Act of Valor has focused on its authenticity.  Active-duty soldiers play the Navy SEALs in the movie.  Real weapons and live ammunition were used.  The story was based on real events recounted by soldiers.  And for what it’s worth, this aspect is largely successful.  I saw the movie with a military veteran who, while not a SEAL, gave it a thumbs up for authenticity.

The problem arrives when you realize it’s not a documentary but a movie.  The soldiers are also asked to act, and they just don’t sound natural in the non-combat scenes.  They always sound like they’re reading lines, and everything just seems stiff and overly explanatory.  As in many action movie, you look forward to the next action scene.  That’s especially true in this case because it provides a welcome respite from the tin-eared dialogue.

I did like the two villains though.  I think they were actual actors, and their characters had an interesting symbiotic relationship despite very different “careers” in villainy.  I also liked the global nature of the plot, involving Mexico, Africa, Russia, and the Philippines in a way that made sense.

Another thing that bothered me was how ruthless the SEALs seemed to be.  There were many scenes involving shooting first and asking questions later.  There was rarely any attempt to disarm or disable; instead, it seems like kill shots were the first attempt in every situation.  It’s certainly likely that maybe I’m conditioned to expect more mercy from action heroes precisely because I’ve seen so many movies, and maybe in real life it’s much more “kill or be killed” as depicted here.

The final thing I didn’t care for was the odd tone of self-sacrifice running throughout.  Don’t misunderstand me here; self-sacrifice is entirely admirable and especially so with our Armed Forces.  This should not be construed as anything political or negative in that regard.  I have no problem with the idea they were presenting, but the tone seemed off.  There were explicit statements about shutting off emotions, being dangerous at all times, and a weird sense that dying for your country is something to actually strive for.  Dying for your country is incredibly brave, but the weird semi-eagerness for death was off-putting.

Ending on a positive note though, the action scenes are pretty good.  There’s a jungle rescue in the beginning that’s pretty fantastic.  It’s set up well, executed well, looks good, is easy to follow, and has a pretty impressive conclusion.  The whole sequence was great.  There are a couple more throughout, and the finale is also well done, although not as good (in my opinion) as the first one.

I’ve heard people say this is just propaganda, or a recruiting film for the military.  I don’t think that’s very accurate.  Sure, it portrays the military in a positive light, but what action movie doesn’t?  And I appreciate the story not having all the soldiers come through unscathed.  So any perceived jingoism didn’t bother me.  What did is the poor writing/acting in the dialogue scenes and the overly gung-ho tone I felt a few times.  These are very subjective though, so you might like it more.

Ryan S. Davis

I love board games, thrill rides and travel. I'm happy to watch and review all kinds of movies, from mainstream blockbusters to art house indies. As a Warner Bros. employee, I'm privileged with a glimpse of Hollywood many don't see, but my opinions here are my own and not representative of the company.

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