4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Opens locally Friday, February 24th, 2012
Run Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Real-life Navy SEALs
Directed by Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh (feature film debut)
Act of Valor is an exhibition of authenticity like we've never seen before.
Before the film even begins, we get a brief clip from the two directors of the film who tell us that what we are about to see is a fictional movie starring real-life Navy SEALs. According to them, there is no actor on Earth who can possibly understand the mind of a Navy SEAL, what they go through away from and inside of a mission. Even their wives and children in the film are played by their real-life counterparts. There are real actors in the film as well, filling out the bad guys and surrounding cast. Even the battle sequences though, use real rounds of gunfire. Act of Valor has set out to be the most authentic film ever made in the war genre.
It is of vital importance that we know ahead of time about these real SEALs, because you will tend to overlook the poor acting and stilted dialogue in scenes that don't deal with military warfare. But knowing is half the battle, and when these men do head out on a mission it is breath-taking knowing that this is not Hollywood depicting how it's done...this is actually how it is done.
The story itself is very straight-forward and typical. A CIA agent is kidnapped by terrorists, and our Navy SEAL unit is sent in to rescue her. After this mission, the team is given another, and another. We understand the danger that these men face every day and the systematic approach that they take towards their work.
The first half hour is unexpectedly powerful. We don't get any character development, and it doesn't really matter what the mission is. It is all about the men in combat, and it puts you right in the action. Many of the action sequences resemble a first-person video game, such as Call of Duty, and the filmmakers excel at depicting edge-of-your-seat combat.
Not being a Navy SEAL myself, I can only guess that Act of Valor is showing them in an authentic light as compared to other films. But there are several small details that were fascinating, things that we have never seen in countless army movies. In Act of Valor, the soldiers have a bit of a bonfire with their families before they head off, but we learn that these soldiers don't enter battle with anything on their minds. Problems at home? They are dealt with and tied off before combat. Or how about when they rescue a hostage, but before taking her, they ask her to verify her mother's maiden name and the street where she grew up, in case the person they rescued wasn't the real deal. In another scene, we see a sniper take out a guard, but only before another SEAL swims up behind the guard to catch the body, lest the body splash and make a sound.
It is these little moments combined with the knowledge that we are seeing real soldiers, that makes Act of Valor a mesmerizing film. But for as much realism that is depicted, there is also an over-the-top sense of political-correctness to how the film is portrayed. Soldiers, for example, make it a point to yell out not to shoot the women and children as they raid an enemy camp. A high-profile terrorist is brought in, and in normal conversation the interrogator re-assures him that he will be treated humanely, and of course will not be tortured. Heck, the SEALs barely swear, and have watered-down conversations compared to what we're used to seeing in films about our military.
So although Act of Valor is a fascinating look inside the life of our military, we also get a sense that we are seeing it through a filtered eye. Some would see it as pro-America while others could describe it as propaganda. The slick, glossed-over political-correctness of the film ultimately undermines the very authenticity that it covets.
There is nothing wrong with a film that makes us feel good about our military, and that gives us an inside look as to what they and they're families go through. The filmmakers made the right decision casting real soldiers, because without them at the center, Act of Valor would have been an act of futility.
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