If you have ever longed for a “Call of Duty” film, look no further.
“Act of Valor,” the recent military action film starring “active duty Navy SEALs” is a fast-paced, patriotic action film that recalls a simpler era of moviemaking. Here, viewers won’t find angsty meditations on the implications of Bush-era foreign policy – this is simply a movie about the men who defend our nation from “enemies foreign and domestic.” And as such, it succeeds.
The plot will be familiar to anyone who’s played one of the “Modern Warfare” games: SEALs are dispatched to rescue a captured CIA operative in Colombia, but it soon becomes clear that an international conspiracy is developing. Russian smuggler and arms broker Christo has allied with radical jihadist and Chechen leader Al-Shabal, and the two men are plotting acts of terror on the U.S. home front. Through a series of globe-hopping missions, the SEALs confront – and eliminate – a variety of terrorist cell groups.
First, the positives…
The action scenes are stunning. “Act of Valor” is one of the best-made shoot-’em-up films I’ve seen in a long time, particularly in terms of cinematography and staging. Key sequences contain plenty of frenetic energy, but it’s never difficult to tell exactly what is happening onscreen. Every inch of the film is suffused with brutal realism, right down to the live ammunition used in many of the combat scenes. In terms of action execution, “Act of Valor” is head-and-shoulders above “The Expendables,” “RED,” or “The A-Team.”
“Act of Valor,” however, isn’t perfect. As many other critics have observed, the acting is remarkably poor. I recognize that the stars of this film are Navy SEALs, not trained actors, but the lifeless lead performances are distractingly bad. Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson might be able to infuse “corny” lines with dramatic power, but that just doesn’t happen here. And unfortunately, weak acting does detract somewhat from the movie’s emotional climax.
The worldview portrayed by “Act of Valor” is remarkably black-and-white: bad people threaten America, SEALs kill bad people. Though I’m often exasperated by political correctness, it’s worth noting that all of the villains fall into one of six categories: black people, Filipino people, Jewish people, Mexican people, Colombian people, and Arab people. In contrast, most of the SEALs (including the two leads) are Caucasian. I would have liked, for example, to have some of the villains be disaffected Anglo-American teenagers who’ve bought into a mindset of hate. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but a little more nuance wouldn’t have hurt.
These faults, however, are ultimately beside the point. “Act of Valor” is a hymn to the courage and self-sacrifice of our top soldiers – and on that level, it succeeds with flying colors. Sitting in the theater, I found myself thinking “I hope other nations are watching this.” Our military succeeds not merely because of technology, but also because of the character of those on the front line. In our affluent country, there are plenty of spoiled, upper-class college kids whining about whether or not it was right to take out Osama bin Laden…I don’t see any of them stepping up to lay their lives on the line. Americans can live free from terrorism because of soldiers’ heroism – and that’s a point “Act of Valor” certainly brings home.
Objectionable content comes in the form of violence (many people are shot in the head with some blood spray, and there’s a brief scene of the CIA operative being tortured) and a fair amount of strong language. Compared to a lot of recent war films, though, it’s rather restrained.
Is it worth watching?
“Act of Valor” lacks the emotional punch of “Saving Private Ryan” or “We Were Soldiers.” But as a testament to the bravery of America’s finest, it’s outstanding. There are definitely some problems – particularly with the script and acting – but when weighed against the superbly rendered action scenes, these are mitigated. Fans of action and military films alike will likely enjoy “Act of Valor.”
A rousing, patriotic action film. Imperfect, but succeeds in being both entertaining and moving.
Normalized Score: 5.8