Friday, March 2, 2012

Movie Review: Act of Valor

Act of Valor **
Directed by: Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh.
Written by: Kurt Johnstad.
Starring: Jason Cottle (Abu Shabal), Alex Veadov (Christo), Ailsa Marshall (LT Rorke's Wife), Gonzalo Menendez (Commander Pedros), Emilio Rivera (Sanchez), Roselyn Sanchez (Lisa Morales), Nestor Serrano (Walter Ross).

I have nothing but respect for the real Navy SEALs that essentially play themselves in Act of Valor. They do a nearly impossible job and put their lives on the line for what they believe in. And I know the whole idea behind Act of Valor was to use “real Navy SEAL” tactics, instead of pumped up Hollywood clichés of what those tactics really are. And yet, there are so many problems with Act of Valor that I do not know where to begin. No, I did not expect that the Navy SEALs would be very good actors, but still, you would think that directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh would be able to get them to sound a little more natural in their roles, since they playing themselves. And you would think that a movie that wants to show “real” tactics instead of Hollywood clichés, would have been able to come up with a less clichéd story. This is a movie with no complexity whatsoever.

The SEAL team is first seen relaxing on R&R discussing family, patriotism and heroism, before they are thrust into action. First, they need to rescue a captured CIA agent from a heavily guarded compound of South American drug traffickers. That leads them to information about an Eastern European drug lord, Christo, and his Muslim childhood friend, who wants to strap bombs to people and detonate them all over America. These two main villains are such cookie cutter bad guys that it is impossible to take them seriously – they are one step away from twirling their mustaches. The SEALs themselves blend together because there is no effort or attempt made to differentiate between them by showing things like personality.

So the SEALs rush headlong into one action sequence after another, mowing down dozens of bad guys, in action sequences that, are at times, impressive and harrowing. And yet, the movies visual style seems inspired more by video games than anything else – there are many, many shots that replicate the look of a first person shooter video game. And because the SEALs are so interchangeable, and the henchmen they gun done are even more nameless and faceless, Act of Valor plays even more like a video game than any movie I can recall. And as anyone who plays video games will tell you, there is nothing more boring than watching someone else plays a video game.

There are moments that work – that first raid on the compound to get the captured CIA agent for example is particularly good – especially in the quieter moments of killing that precede the all-out bloodbath it will become (shooting someone on a dock while another SEAL has swam up behind him to catch his body so it won’t back a sound is particularly fascinating). The massive gunfight that follows is also well handled. But too much of what follows feels interchangeable. The action sequences work, at least to a certain extent, but whenever the movie slows down, and anyone says anything, the whole things grinds to a halt.

I understand that the filmmakers wanted to honor the heroes who fight for their country, and are willing to die for it. But I also think that the best way to do that would be to present a realistic portrait of what their lives are actually like. Act of Valor turns their lives into a globetrotting adventure film – and worse yet, merely a game. I doubt they view it that way.

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