‘Act of Valor’ a Puzzling Example of a War Film

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CHICAGO – The military soldier is one of the most fascinating character studies in art. He or she works at the highest level their training allows, and routinely go into battles based on decisions made far away from their own reality. “Act of Valor” attempts to define that loyalty - to themselves, their fellow soldiers and their country.

The film seems to go about it in the wrong way. Real Navy Seal specialists, whose unit most famously accomplished the takedown of Osama bin Laden, are used here as props for a speculative fiction. Asking these men and women to be “actors,” while at the same time surrounding them with villains that would be more at home in a James Bond movie, lessens the impact of what they really do. If this film was trying to tug at our patriotic heartstrings - and given the emotions directed toward the missions I suspect that’s exactly the plan - then it would have been better served as a docudrama or straight documentary, not a video game-like story with foregone conclusions.

Real Navy Seals, portraying super-actuated versions of themselves, and are sent on several related missions, The first is to follow up on a terrorist bombing in the Philipines, which involves the rescue of a CIA agent (Rosalyn Sanchez) caught in the jihadist web in South America, and this is followed by a series of police actions based on the intelligence that is uncovered during that rescue mission. The Seal specialists are broken down into easy-to-remember nicknames, but in terms of the plot it is narrowed down into The Team Leader, The Lieutenant (with a baby on the way), The Interrogator and the supporting soldiers.

Dropping In: Navy Seals on Target in ‘Act of Valor’
Dropping In: Navy Seals on Target in ‘Act of Valor’
Photo credit: Relativity Media

They are sent to different locales to essentially search and destroy. Two key terrorists are on the loose, the South American Christo (Alex Veadov) and his super evil childhood friend Karimov (Dimiter Marinov). They swoop in on Christo, and The Interrogator gets what he needs. The final battle is on the Mexican border, where the need to stop the import of a new super weapon will test the Seals to the very last man.

The decision making process behind the production of this film is probably ten times more interesting than the result. There was an assumption from the filmmaking team that a fictionalized Seal adventure would be much more interesting than honoring the corp with a documentary - or even, if the need to film action sequences were necessary - to create a docudrama of the Navy Seal’s “greatest hits.” The James Bond-like silliness, although wrapped in some unique action sequences, puts the sacrifice of real missions on the back burner. It was a disservice.

Also the servicemen called upon to “act” their roles got a bit shafted. I doubt directors Mike McCoy or Scott Waugh were there to teach the nuances of performance method. Some of the line readings were painful, and delivered like auctioneers. It also seemed a bit weird to have The Lieutenant given the fictional set-up of a pregnant wife. Like the “Kid from Brooklyn” in the old World War II films, this is a foreshadowing of something unpalatable, and the film unfortunately delivers.

I admire highly trained and skilled craftsman in any profession, and there is a nod toward the type of specialized training that the Navy Seals go through in order to be the best. There was a specific duty highlighted with The Interrogator. He is introduced as one of the best, but doesn’t prove it in a Q&A scene that would have been at home in a Inspector Clouseau film. We don’t have privy to how real interrogators do their very difficult job of intelligence gathering. This has caused speculation and concern when debating the effectiveness of interrogations, but they sure as hell don’t do it the way it was depicted in the film.

The Interrogator Seeks His Prey in ‘Act of Valor’
The Interrogator Seeks His Prey in ‘Act of Valor’
Photo credit: Relativity Media

It is easy to pick nits in what is basically a propaganda film, but what fictionalized showcase of war isn’t (in either a conservative or progressive way)? The composition of the action sequences by the co-directors were fairly well handled, but for some reason they had to make the point – in a preamble before the film – that it was all filmed using live ammunition. Aren’t the blank pyrotechnics developed overs years of blow-ups in films enough? There was also a video game “shooter” mode employed in many shots, which ended up looking like pandering.

There is nothing like the pride swell for a soldier who uses his or her training in a way that saves lives and - let’s face it - defends the homeland. The solution to ending war is simply to be more honest about it, warts and all. The decision-making to engage is made by flawed human beings, sometimes fraught with motivations that do not serve the eventual warrior, who by skill or accident of birth is sent into the fray. ”Act of Valor” would honor the soldier better if it contained a better foundation of truth, which is summed up by the simple phrase, “War is Hell.”

“Act of Valor” opens everywhere February 24th. Featuring Roselyn Sanchéz, Alex Veadov, Dimitri Marinov and Alisa Marshall. Screenplay by Kurt Johnstad, directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Anonymous2133's picture

“There was also a video

There was also a video game “shooter” mode employed in many shots, which ended up looking like pandering.”

You mean the helmet cam, sort of like the ones they wear in real life? Theyve been wearing them for some time now, because they let them Analyze the missions later for intel and training purposes, and also they supposedly can patch a live feed of the cam to anyplace in the world, real time. Obama and others allegedly watched the Bin ladin raid like that.

And I dont feel anyone whos not in the field has any authority to judge the authenticity of either the seal’s mission/interrogation tactics, or what IRL bad guys look like. The evil russian baddie and the funny beard muslim terrorist are cliche because that happens to be what alot of the “bad guys” look like.

Criticism of the acting is obviously just, but the realism of the film is not(unless you happen to be a SF combat vet).

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