ACT OF VALOR
***1/2 (out of 5)
February 24, 2012
Alex Veadov as CHRISTO
Roselyn Sánchez as MORALES
Nestor Serrano as WALTER ROSS
The Navy SEALs as THEMSELVES
Directed by: Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
If anything, “Act of Valor” is a fascinating cinematic experiment. Rather than wrangling a ton of stunt performers, green screen artists and visual effects technicians, directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh got the Pentagon’s permission to use real active-duty Navy SEALs to stage the action sequences for their film. However, instead of just using the SEALs for background and consultation, the directors decided to make them the stars of the movie itself.
The result is one of the most unique military action films I’ve seen in a long time. Now, I’m not in the military and I have no idea what goes on during a real Navy SEALs mission, but this sure felt real to me. And I imagine that anyone who has served in the military, or has a loved one who is or has served, will really enjoy this flick.
The story isn’t anything too complicated. There’s an international terrorist cell planning a massive, multi-city attack on the U.S. Led by a religious zealot, the plan involves multiple public detonations of devastating explosions. A team of Navy SEALs – which includes two best friends, one of whom has a pregnant wife at home – uncovers the plot during the extraction of a CIA agent from behind enemy lines. The team then works around the clock and around the globe to thwart this attack.
Obviously, the best part of this movie is the hardcore military action. When boots are on the ground and the SEALs are in mission mode, it’s really quite fascinating. Along with the cast, the filmmakers are diving out of real planes. They’re hitching rides on real nuclear submarines. They’re firing real live rounds into the jungle. These are elements to this film that bring a level or realism to the screen that hasn’t been achieved outside of a documentary.
On top of this, the movie portrays the unflinching dedication in these missions. There’s no quarrelling in the field. There’s no negotiating to keep alive some lame henchman for dramatic effect. The missions are executed with swiftness and prejudice, and while somewhat shocking at times, they seem very necessary.
But there are some downfalls in this film, once the action scenes stop and we roll into character development. While I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time to get the Navy SEALs to play their own characters, it’s a complete misfire. It’s not that these guys are terrible actors; they’re just not good actors. And putting them up against even the most average professional actor (which includes the other “stars” of the film like Alex Veadov and Roselyn Sánchez), their inexperience shows.
God bless the Navy SEALs, and if I were stuck behind enemy lines, I would want no one less coming to save me. But as good as they are with their job as military men, their job as actors is a bigger struggle.
Adding insult to injury on this front, the film also features the families of the SEALs, who are presented as the most perfectly happy and supportive team around. I’m not saying that the families don’t support their men in the field, but the movie lays on the community aspect so thick that the homeland sequences feel like a bigger recruitment video for the Department of the Navy than the actual kick-ass action scenes do.
In the end, “Act of Valor” is a decent movie, and it’s worth seeing. It’s a fantastic action movie, and it’s heart is definitely in the right place, honoring some true American heroes. Yeah, it can be quite a flag-waver at times, and the character scenes and plot development often play out like a bad episode of “Army Wives,” but I was okay with that.
If you can grit your teeth and get through the rough patches, there’s a lot of entertainment packed into this little movie.