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Act of Valor should be labeled more as an experience than it should be touted as a wholly successful cinematic outing. There is a certain novelty to seeing real-live active Navy SEALs starring in an action vehicle rather than your stock Hollywood muscle-head, but when all is said and done, glossy gimmick is really the highest level the film achieves.
More than once, it becomes glaringly apparent that Act of Valor was birthed from a recruitment video both in terms of plotting and in presentation. The first act, which sends our SEALs on a mission to rescue an imprisoned C.I.A. agent (Roselyn Sanchez) from South American terrorists, feels as if stretched from a much shorter idea, and even then, directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh realized their movie was only 40 minutes long. From there, they loosely (and I mean very loosely) added the secondary task of stopping bombers (of course intent on causing global chaos) from crossing the Mexican boarder into the United States. The plot is a mess, but who’s really expecting to be surprised with William Faulkner when all they’re promising is Nicolas Sparks.
Also born from a recruitment video state of mind is the semi-frequent suffocating patriotism. This would be less of an issue if the tone weren’t so devoid of notable motives, beliefs or substantial ideology in all other moments. I could, however, still see this depiction of war easily winning over a 10-year-old boy; the soldiers are heroic and brave, their actions are honorable and their skill sets impressive. These men (whose real identities have been masked for their own protection) are certainly believable in their roles (they had better be), but believability does not directly translate to authenticity and authenticity certainly does not translate to acting skills. It is tough to fault the individuals themselves as I doubt they ever claimed to have that particular talent, but when the line delivery induces cringes more than awe, it’s tough not to take note.
Now it’s time to get to the meat and potatoes of Act of Valor: the action. The claims were bold that it would deliver, and the extended combat sequences rarely disappoint. From more sweeping shots to in-your-face handheld filming styles, when the bullets fly, this war flick is crisp but chaotic and entertainingly so. Credit is certainly due to aforementioned first-time directors McCoy and Waugh. Even though the script, acting and story left me wanting, this is sure-handed stuff when it comes to choreography and filming.
Much of Act of Valor was shot on-location in areas such as Cambodia, Mexico and Puerto Rico, all that along with more-liberal-than-usual access given to military hardware. In those respects, I give the film kudos, as its purer intentions clearly lay in these areas.
We don’t get many war films these days, so I welcome lesser works more than I would for other genres. If more attention had been paid to making the story more interesting and the script sharper (if you’re going to have stilted delivery you might as well have them deliver good dialogue stiltedly) the term “overblown gimmick” could have been replaced with “successful experiment.” The realness of the components doesn’t always add up to making “Valor” an authentic war film, especially the glossing over of loss, tragedy and the overall grimness of the ordeal. Although it fails as something more cerebral, at the very least it marks a solid first effort from two young filmmakers and earns its stripes as an action-packed B-movie.