"Act of Valor" started off as a recruitment video before it became a full-fledged film with an actual plot. Co-directors Mike "Mouse" McCoy and Scott Waugh generated a short documentary about the Navy's Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCC), and the Navy was so impressed that it commissioned this full-length movie.
The biggest "hook" is that active-duty U.S. Navy SEALs star in the film. In order to protect their identities and their families, we never learn their real names, and they aren't listed in the credits. When they deliver their lines, they are convincing in that we believe they are Navy SEALs. It takes a few minutes to adjust to the fact that these guys aren't trained actors, so the first few lines of dialogue sound a little wooden. You get used to it, though, and you move on.
There is a gravitas to "Act of Valor" that you just can't get by casting Vin Diesel, Hugh Jackman, or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Navy SEALs. After a long day of filming, actors can go home to spend time with their families. Active-duty SEALs don't have that luxury, as they don't know if they'll ever see their families again. That sobering thought stays with you.
A SEAL team is tasked with rescuing CIA agent Lisa Morales (Roselyn Sanchez), who was kidnapped and tortured by terrorists. Evidence recovered during the mission shows that a drug smuggler, Christo (Alex Veadov), and a bomb-happy jihad extremist (Jason Cottle) are working together to bring 18 suicide bombers to large U.S. cities. The SEALs travel to various locations around the globe — California, Central America, the Pacific — to kick ass, take names, and prevent this atrocity from occurring.
"Act of Valor" features some amazing, jaw-dropping sequences, although it's not always about the shock and awe. As the SEALs make their way through the Costa Rican jungle in the middle of the night, they silently communicate with hand signals. Perhaps the sound was removed in postproduction, but it's impressive that you can't hear their footfalls. In a sequence that was featured in the movie trailer, one member of the SEAL team is hidden underwater — with the exception of his hands, which are palm up. The SEAL sniper shoots a bad guy, who proceeds to fall, face up, onto the SEAL's waiting palms. This happens quickly and silently, and although some of us had seen this before, it still elicited a murmur of appreciation from the audience.
In a more traditional action scene, a couple of SWCC boats arrive to extract our heroes, who are being pursued by bad guys toting some serious firepower. In the ensuing firefight, it boggles the mind to watch the number of shell casings that pop away from the boats' mounted machine guns.
As former stuntmen who are accustomed to intense action sequences, McCoy and Waugh do a respectable job directing the film. There is a good mix of shots, and they didn't linger too long on any one style so you don't tire of it. There is some shaky-cam, some first-person perspective shots from behind a gun, some wide-angle views, and judicious use of close-ups. There is a big to-do about the movie using live ammo. I don't understand why these servicemen needed to be put in harm's way for no reason, but that's probably because I don't eat danger for breakfast.
Kurt Johnstad, one of the screenwriters of "300," penned the screenplay for "Act of Valor," and he's done an admirable job. The plot single-handedly combines America's biggest terrorism fears: an attack is set to occur on U.S. soil, the weapons don't trigger metal detectors, and the assailants are coming through the sieve that is the U.S.-Mexico border. The dialogue could've been improved, but no one expects riveting prose from an action film. The SEAL team members remain very stock characters, but the same could be said about the Spartan army in Johnstad's other film, "300."
It's slightly unfair to judge "Act of Valor" as a Hollywood movie. Yes, it stars some Hollywood actors, but the protagonists are a bunch of Navy SEALs who have no further acting aspirations. In a Hollywood movie, the bad guys die and the good guys go home to their families. Even if the hero dies in a Hollywood film, we know that the actor will turn up in another popcorn flick next summer. When you watch "Act of Valor," you are confronted by the fact that these men — these very men on the screen — stare death in the face every morning. Some might consider this movie to be propaganda, but it's difficult to watch the final scene of this film without 1) wiping away a tear and 2) feeling the compulsion to wave a flag.
"Act of Valor" is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.
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