Act of Valor

Despite cheesy acting, Act of Valor manages to stay afloat with authentic action largely due to the use of real soldiers as actors.

As a debut producer/director team, Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh’s Act of Valor is somehow reminiscent, for lack of better comparison, of Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. While that comparison works for the genre this movie is suited up for, the highlights here are some fantastic action choreography unlike your typical Hollywood flash-bang formula. The results of which are perhaps due to the Omnipotent force driving this story – the use of active-duty Navy SEALs, acting as active-duty Navy SEALs!

Inspired by true events, the premise is an action packed illustration of the cogs and wheels behind the fight for freedom; or in this case, anti-terrorism. After undercover CIA operatives go missing in Costa Rica, a rescue mission by Navy SEALs leads to the discovery that a Chechen defector turned Jihadi terrorist is plotting an attack on America with such magnitude, it could make 9/11 look like a walk in the park. Lead by SOC Dave and LCDR Rorke, a team of seven Navy Seals are re-deployed to prevent Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle) and his undetectable weapons of devastation from reaching highly populated American cities.

Before addressing the reasons behind why this movie was received with mixed reactions, let me first dwell on what makes this movie different, and in my opinion, worth a watch. First and foremost is the obvious casting of real life Navy SEALs. It’s one thing to watch seasoned action movie stars blow stuff up because you expect them to. Whereas, it is totally different when watching seasoned soldiers do what they have trained so hard to do. This is all too obvious from the way these protagonists talk, to the way they handle a weapon, and by their inherent swagger makes the ‘A-Team’ look like Teletubbies. That said, our heroes are in their element when geared up for the mission at hand, be it stealthy eliminations or running and gunning or jumping off a high altitude aircraft. But like fish out of water, you can’t really expect immersive acting when they are void of camouflage, burst frequency radios, or anything related to battle mode. Dialogue sounds cheesy and read, especially during sub-plots that try to reveal they are also ordinary men with dependent families. Mainstream critics have expressed that the story is packed with propaganda, rather unkindly suggesting Uncle Sam’s invincibility and far reach. While I did feel the SEALs seemed rather invincible towards the end of the movie, I also felt a strong vibe of patriotism instead of the misconstrued propaganda. Perhaps that has something to do with the screenplay coming from Kurt Johnstad, the same person behind the very patriotic ethos in 300. If I have to nitpick, it would have to be the overdone first-person perspective of having the camera mounted onto the laser sights of assault rifles. One or two scenes would have been acceptable, but this gets so repetitive, it appears to be borrowed from a Tom Clancy page-turner or a PlayStation 3 Call of Duty game.

If G. I. Jane (also Ridley Scott) is about the level of intensity and determination put into becoming a Navy SEAL, then this movie succeeds in showing the world why average paid, low profiled individuals risk their lives so that freedom remains a birth right in America. Just before the end credits, McCoy and Waugh also show us the price paid since 9/11 by SEALs who have given up the American way of life, so that the rest of America does not have to. Essentially, Patriotism, not propaganda, is a philosophy other countries should rekindle to keep terrorists out. With that message radiating from the Prologue and epilogue, including acceptable elaboration in between, first time directors McCoy and Waugh have brought out a decent action movie with relevance to the genre as well as the ongoing ‘war on terror’. In the end, Act of Valor may not be remembered as a great action movie, but it is still a novelty for no other reason than literally practicing what it preaches.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.