“Act of Valor” is a tough movie to judge. I’ve always taken into consideration what a movie is trying to be when reviewing it. I look at the intentions of the filmmakers and the target audience to better understand if they accomplished their goal. But there are also certain elements to a film that should be consistent in every good picture. “Act of Valor” is a straightforward and unashamed action picture. It’s one point of uniqueness is that it stars real-life active duty Navy SEALs. In fact, none of they SEAL’s real names were mentioned in the film or featured in the credits. At first I wondered if this was strictly a gimmick to draw action lovers to the film. But the very first action sequence showed me that they really brought something to the movie. Unfortunately there are other areas where the picture falls short and even the fantastic action scenes can’t totally overcome these flaws.
Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh produced and directed “Act of Valor”. They gained permission from the United States Navy to use real SEALs and received access to training areas and equipment to give the film a heightened sense of realism. The Navy’s involvement certainly is effective and the action scenes are brimming with grit and intensity. The SEALs legitimately give the military styled action an adrenaline shot that many of these films don’t have. Their familiarity with the missions and the process is evident and when they start speaking the special forces lingo I was completely involved. There is also a genuine sense of patriotism in these men that you can’t help but be impressed by.
McCoy and Waugh use several camera techniques to give the movie more grit and energy. Some work and some don’t. There are some scenes, especially earlier in the film, where we get shifts of focus that are really distracting. There are also some moments where the herky-jerky shots make deciphering the action almost impossible. But thankfully the erratic handheld technique is used sparingly. We also get several action shots from the first-person perspective that closer resembled a Call of Duty video game than a movie. But I grew to like those instances regardless of its obvious gimmickry.
While the action scenes clearly show the movie’s strengths, the attempts at drama and character development are definitely weaknesses. The biggest problem is with the acting. Look, I completely understand that these aren’t professional actors. But most of their non-action line-reading is cringe-worthy. They really give no life to these characters and the movie suffers for it. The character-driven moments seem false and the guys just don’t have the skills to sell them. The story also suffers from a fairly generic and painfully predictable script. There’s one key moment in the film that you see coming 10 clicks away.
“Act of Valor” is sure to get its share of criticism and it’s hard to argue for its shortcomings. But when the night vision popped on and the bullets began to fly, I found myself enthralled. This is a movie that at times feels like an obvious recruiting tool and at other times a hard-core military action movie. The filmmakers do get several things right. When the SEALs are in their element I was completely drawn in. But when it comes to simple everyday things like…well…carrying on a conversation, the movie goes limp. I think “Act of Valor” does enough of what it’s aiming for to offer some entertainment. I’m actually anxious to see the action scenes again. Too bad I’ll probably have to forward through everything else to get there.