Alex Veadov, Nestor Serrano, Rosalyn Sanchez
Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh
Directors' Commentary; deleted scenes (9:20); theatrical trailer (2:32).
Act of Valor, a movie first proposed by the U.S. Navy to the film's co-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, is intended as a way of humanizing and creating an emotional attachment to the Navy SEALS, considered by many to be the most highly trained and elite soldiers in the world.
With this very fundamental goal, Act of Valor fails.
Act of Valor is a decent and watchable action flick, an occasionally captivating first-person shooter ensemble flick carrying as its calling card that it stars actual active-duty Navy SEALS in several of its key roles. The film will unquestionably resonate more deeply with those who've experienced military life and, most certainly, with those who've either been involved with or familiar with life amongst the Navy SEALS.
It's a trick to review a film such as Act of Valor. If I trash the film, I run the risk of being called unpatriotic or being accused of allowing my pacifistic tendencies to get the best of me. If, on the other hand, I overly praise the film I run the risk of being accused of ignoring its considerable flaws and of caving in to the film's "rah rah" tendencies.
The truth is somewhere in the middle.
Act of Valor isn't an awful film. I never had the desire to leave the theater, despite not particularly being a fan of war-themed films. While I never found myself genuinely moved by any scene within the film, a glance around the theater quickly revealed that many in the packed theater were quite moved more than once by scenes in the film.
The film centers around a group of Navy Seals who are called in to rescue a kidnapped CIA operative (Rosalyn Sanchez). The rescue uncovers a wealth of intel revealing that a terrorist is on the verge of pulling off what could prove to be a devastating terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The Navy SEALS, in an effort to stop the terrorist, travel the globe and in each spot recover vital additional pieces of intel.
While there's never any doubt whatsoever that the Navy SEALS will succeed in their mission, sorry if you consider that a spoiler, there are a couple cinematic choices that may prove surprising to those used to the usual Hollywood choices and Hollywood endings. However, this is a film that is clearly designed to give good PR to the Navy SEALS and, indeed, it portrays these elite fighting machines as noble, selfless, intensely skilled and loyal to country, family and their fellow SEALS. It may seem a bit odd that all of this feels almost jarringly unemotional to the non-military-based viewer, but it actually makes sense in the scheme of things. While there's little doubt that those who are Navy SEALS do feel deeply, the film makes it abundantly clear that they are trained to transcend those feelings in order to accomplish their tasks. If we "felt" too deeply for them, we may very well be missing that point.
I must confess that I find the idea of utilizing real Navy SEALS more gimmicky than impressive. While the SEALS are most assuredly familiar with how to make scenes more "real," they're also not particularly impressive actors. They do possess a stoicism that fits the scenario, but there are too many times when Act of Valor feels more like a recruitment video than a film. While there's a brief scene that precedes the film that explains, at least minimally, how this all came to be it fails to address such vital issues as how putting these "active duty" elite soldiers could impact national security and, as well, how it was ensured that no methods or national secrets were revealed. Watching the film actually allayed many of these fears, because so much of the film is your generic "rah rah" war film that it's impossible to think that any big secrets were in danger of being exposed to those who might exploit the knowledge.
In a film where the focus was on the military heroes, it is more than a tad ironic that the best performance belongs to Alex Veadov as a Ukrainian drug smuggler who ends up being a key link in finding the Chechen terrorist (Jason Cottle) whose plot is about to unfold (Side Note: I'm note quite sure how it all worked out that these two were classmates at one point, but it may be a futile exercise in searching for logic on my part). I had to chuckle a bit, though, every time Veadov came on the screen as he bears a striking resemblance to that guy from the "Free Hugs" video that went viral on Youtube. That said, Veadov affords the film what little emotional resonance it possesses as a man who can in no way be considered a good guy but who does possess a skewed ethic that makes his storyline quite compelling.
A quick perusal of PR articles coming out in advance of the film's release confirms what most would suspect in that Hollywood's influence can be felt in the film and there are definitely scenes in the film that, despite claims of authenticity, are clearly all Hollywood. That said, multiple Navy SEALS from past and present who've already seen the film have acknowledged being at least modestly and unexpectedly pleased with the filmmakers' reverent and respectful approach to filming life as a Navy SEAL.
The action sequences are often captivating, though given the advertised "authenticity" claims it's hard not to chuckle when the obligatory slo-mo scenes do occur. Directors McCoy and Waugh are veteran stuntmen, a fact that shows in the well choreographed action sequences. The script, by Kurt Johnstad (of 300 fame), is both respectful of the SEALS while being faithful to the action genre.
Opinions will no doubt vary wildly on Act of Valor, but it's a film that should please most fans of the action and war genre along with serving as a reverent and respectful glimpse into military life that could very well be a cathartic experience for former soldiers and military families. It's difficult to imagine that your ordinary, average moviegoer will feel a strong bond with the film but as a well intended popcorn flick you could do much, much worse.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic