Cinema News and Reviews for the Rest of Us

Review: Act of Valor

Wasted Courage

What an odd film to write about.

Let me begin by plainly stating that I believe the Navy SEALs to be American heroes, trained to a borderline ridiculous degree to take on dangerous tasks that nary a civilian would be willing much less able to do. But if Act of Valor, a jingoistic piece of military propoganda in the tradition of The Green Berets, is meant to attain a higher degree of verisimilitude by putting actual SEALs in the film instead of the likes of John Wayne, are we really to believe that the real-world landscape in which these special operations take place looks very much like a 1980s Chuck Norris movie?

Having the SEALs in the film only adds a greater realism and understanding to the technical aspects of these operations, and the action scenes are, in fact, frequently rousing and viscerally exciting. The way they go about their work patiently, the way they turn corners, they way they use their bodies and their weapons in space all succeed in lending the missions a real-world punch that does feel different than your typical action flick.  These guys didn’t train for a couple weekends or go to a Dale Dye “boot camp” in Santa Monica. They know what they’re doing in the field.

But these scenes are pieces in a larger story that has all the depth and moral complexity of a James Bond intercontinental romp. Skirting Middle-East concerns completely (which smacks of a cowardice that the SEALs themselves would never fall to), the scenario has these men hopping around the globe trying to track down a Chechen bad dude (a walking villainous cliche, complete with shaved head and scary facial scar) before he infiltrates the U.S. with a bunch of fancy ceramic-pellet-filled explosive vests that he plans to make suicide bombers set off in malls and at sporting events. If it sounds like the plot of a Michael Bay crap-fest, it plays out like one, just with real SEALs who, bless their effort, look horrifically uncomfortable trying to act their way through dramatic scenes. So at home in the field, the poor guys look tortured trying to act naturalistically in scenes written so unnaturalistically. For what greater purpose should these brave men and we as the audience struggle through such a bland and pat story, a story where villains (performed by real actors) actually seem like deeper and more recognizably human characters? The dramatic demands of the medium are outside the SEALs’ reach, and dramatic efforts of the film itself are far below their courageous pedigree. Nothing is real or worthy in its place.

The SEALs, and we as a conscientious viewing public, deserve better.


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