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Movie Review: Act of Valor

February 27, 2012

Commercials for Act of Valor make its major asset very clear. The stars of the movie are active duty Navy SEALs. And while that makes them very good at what they do, that does not make them good actors. If you go into this movie with that understanding, then it can be a good, if hard, film to watch.

The plot itself is very rushed. There seems to be very little time to make a real emotional connection to the SEALs and to the other government agents involved in the plot. The one character that the audience does get to know better is hard to connect to because he seemed to have a giant blinking sign over his head to the whole movie reading “I’m the noble sacrifice.” All of the usual cliches were there, right down to carrying something from his family in his pocket. As for the terrorist plot, most of it is only thick enough to hold together the action scenes from the SEALs. The cliches come fast and thick here as well, missing only a fistfight with a bikini clad bodyguard to make up the plot of an old Bond film.

It is worth noting that there is a certain element of propaganda to these films. The Seals never shoot any women, even armed women, and there are several scenes with take pains to push that message. In every instance where the SEALs might be seen as the larger and more powerful aggressor, the movie has the smaller aggressor shoot first. In a fight where a truck has driven off, two helicopters are sent to intercept it. It is not clear what the helicopters are supposed to do, until one of the men in the truck pulls out a rocket launcher. At which point the helicopter open fire on the truck. Similar scenes are repeated throughout the movie emphasizing the point in both subtle and not so subtle ways is that the SEALs are the good guys.

Despite all of that, the cinematography was really quite good. There was a great deal of high tech overlays that slickly show the audience where the fast paced location changes were taking place. The director certainly has an eye for dramatic locations and rarely misses that ever popular shot of some piece of high tech Navy equipment in action. There are quite a few decent actors outside of the main cast, but most of them aren’t on scene for long enough to balance the rest. The only jarring moments were the “first person shooter” scenes, which seemed like a little too much fanservice for the originally targeted audience of people who played Battlefield 3.

Where Act of Valor succeed best is when it gets down to its true goal. Showing Navy SEALs in action. Once away from the parts that the SEALs weren’t experienced with, namely acting, the movie gets considerably better. The moment the SEALs hit the swamp, they move from men who are acting to men who are doing. In every line of their bodies and faces, you can see the practiced ease of motion that no acting class could teach. During the fight scene, they reveal a familiarity with each other that speaks of a bond forged in battle.

Most revealing of all is the ending funeral scene. Here in the faces of the SEALs, there is no acting. They are not playing at mourning their fallen fictional friend. Etched into the faces of each man, is the deeper mourning for real friends who went before. Much like their body language in the action scenes, the actions of the men attending the funeral reveals far too much practice.

Act of Valor will likely never win an award for the category of best actor and there are some who will cynically view this whole movie as simply a giant propaganda piece for the Navy. In the way that most movies are kinds of propaganda, they will be right. But that doesn’t make the movie any less worth watching.

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