Judging by face value, “Act of Valor,” the new war film that stars active-duty Navy SEALs, is not a particularly good movie. The involvement of those SEALs certainly upped the cool factor, but similar to many B-grade action flicks, it is still more about blowing things up than actually telling an interesting story.
“Act of Valor” follows a group of SEALs as they rescue a captured CIA agent from some bad guys in the Philippines. Once they get the agent back, the plot snowballs into a mission to find a jihadist and his supplier before they launch an attack on U.S. soil via sleeper cells on the Mexican border.
Oddly enough, the “actors” who play the SEALs are both a huge strength and weakness. Since they are the real deal, their actions and fighting prowess on screen have an authenticity that a standard actor couldn’t possibly achieve in his or her wildest dreams.
Conversely, they are also not actors, and understandably, when it comes to expressing emotion and other acting duties, they fall short. Being an actor, like being a Navy SEAL, is not something that just anyone can do.
“Act of Valor” also delivers some noteworthy action scenes. Despite its handheld camera techniques, first-person perspective and night vision, the movie manages to not be too confusing. The film does a fairly good job at building suspense, as the run-up to a big battle scene can be just as satisfying as the fight itself (see the big preparation before the final battle of “Saving Private Ryan” for a perfect example of this). To maintain authenticity, the filmmakers even use live ammunition for some scenes.
But this is by no means a great movie. The lack of professional actors dampens character development, and it is difficult to actually care about the people you see. The bad guys aren’t particularly interesting and have little to no motivation behind their actions.
That some view “Act of Valor” as being little more than a live-action “Call of Duty” is kind of understandable, due to the first-person shots and the globe-trotting nature of the plot, which boils down only to stopping some terrorists before they do abhorrent things. Others would call this movie a glorified recruitment film, which is kind of ridiculous when you consider that the average young American male has a higher chance of being drafted by the NFL than becoming a SEAL.
So why would you see “Act of Valor”? Why not wait for it to be available on Netflix? Here is the reason: At the very end, out of absolutely nowhere, the film becomes oddly poignant, and actually moving. You may even want to reach for a tissue.
In a truly impressive feat, this movie, which up until this point has completely failed to establish any kind of emotional connection to its audience, gets you to care.
You care because you realize that the tragic event that happens in the last reel has happened in real life, and has occurred many times throughout the War on Terror. You may even know someone that has lost a life or limb to that conflict. This scene alone is the film’s greatest accomplishment.
On the basis of that, I came to the conclusion that “Act of Valor” is not a thinly veiled recruitment film; it’s not some lame attempt at an action movie by lazy screenwriters who play way too much “Battlefield 3.” It is a tribute to those very few, select handful of men who wear the trident of the Navy SEALs. Sure, it is ham-fisted, clumsy, poorly executed and not particularly good, but it is much appreciated nonetheless.
‘Act of Valor’
Release Date: Feb. 24
Director: Scott Waugh
Starring: Roselyn Sanchez, Alex Veadov and Nestor Serrano
Genre: Action, War
Rating: R for strong violence, including some torture and language