First and foremost, Act of Valor fails on a conceptual level. I’m not specifically speaking about the by now well-advertised fact that the film features eight “active duty Navy SEALs,” which is problematic in it’s own right, and I’m not even accusing the film of being inauthentic in its depictions of the heroics and skill of these Navy SEALs, the issue is in its agenda. It’s been well publicized that this project began as an Army recruitment video, and the obvious biases the film has makes it, all acting, technical and storytelling aside, the anti-Hurt Locker.
Beginning with a cringe-inducing montage of farewell and voiceover telling us what it means to be a man, the film haphazardly sets up its team of SEALs, who clearly can’t act — although that is really to be expected, so it’s hard to hammer home this major fault too much — and who the film desperately wants to portray as average American citizens who have volunteered to defend their honor and country.
In order to show off all the abilities of this group of Seals, the screenwriters attempt to make coherency over a plot to bring down the US economy by connecting Mexican drug cartels, a jihadist terrorist cell, and a Ukrainian terrorist hell-bent on revenge against America. At the center of the SEALs are two leaders, “Chief Dave” and “Lt. Commander Rorke,” neither of whom are characters established as anything more than killing machines, making any attachment to these characters minimal.
It’s frustrating to think that this film could have achieved so much more without making a completely over-the-top terrorist conspiracy and a political agenda that masks any skill or realism on the side of the SEALs, as well as chocking the life, entertainment, and exciting action out of the proceedings. In fact, from an action film standpoint the film unfortunately can’t excite or interest for longer than individual moments. The questionable filming techniques and overall style feels completely derivative and ultimately uninteresting.
The weak and forced opening aside, the first action sequence shows promise both in its action as well as conspiracy. The team of SEALs is sent into rescue a kidnapped and tortured CIA agent (Roselyn Sanchez), as their elaborate rescue mission has — if nothing else — a very crisp and methodical look and feel. The story quickly spirals into something which is at once very elaborate while at the same time extremely generic.
For a film claiming authenticity down to the last degree (an introduction explains the SEALs are using live-fire), the filming used by directors and former stuntmen Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh feels anything but. While there are times of true realism and exciting maneuvers, the camera movements are distracting in almost every scene. From using POV and night vision shots that appear to have been extracted straight out of a Call of Duty game, Act of Valor never rises above its faults to become more than a propaganda-filled, idea of a film, while the action makes the audience feel as if they’re watching a friend play a video game, rather than actual living, breathing SEALs.
Rated: R (for strong violence including some torture, and for language.)
Act of Valor opens nationwide February 24th.