“Act of Valor” Movie Review

     To measure "Act of Valor" the same way I would any other film wouldn't be fair.  It's really a documentary disguised and marketed as a feature film, though the advertising claims it will be like nothing you've ever seen before.  That's partially true.  I doubt there has ever been a film where it's stars are real life active duty Navy SEALs, but it doesn't really matter who's doing the shooting, sometimes an action movie is an action movie. The question is still whether or not the scenes involving these heroes are staged in a way  the audience can follow and do these scenes fit within a cohesive narrative?

     In case you're not aware, stuntmen turned directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh first pitched the idea of doing a substantially budgeted recruitment video for the Navy which would, of course, star active duty members of the SEALs and other Naval components.  While embedded within actual training exercises, the idea was brought forth to tie these action sequences together into a feature length film.  Provided they would receive final cut, the Navy agreed and the "Act of Valor" concept was born.

     The uncredited eight member SEAL cast is forced to act in some scenes where they are reenacting various cliched family moments such as the BBQ on the beach with wives, kids, and family.  All of this is meant to personify that “American as apple pie” image someone thinks is necessary to be a hero these days.  I think we all know the initial scenes in this film are not authentic, but that's not really why we would see a movie like this anyway.  After we're subjected to the uninteresting "getting to know you chit chat", the film really takes off as these guys are thrust into circumstances they clearly excel at.

     The film's plot is simple.  An undercover CIA operative, posing as a doctor in Costa Rica, has been kidnapped and the SEALs are sent to rescue her.  It is later discovered those responsible for the kidnapping are actually part of a terrorist plot to enter the U.S. and target major cities.  Again, your not really watching this film for its run of the mill plot either.  The attraction here is the realistic exhibition and demonstration of warfare by one of the world's most elite units and they don't disappoint.  Whereas normal films employ these experts as consultants, there's an obvious authenticity here you wouldn't see in "The Rock" or some other wanna be SEAL Team film.  None of this comes across as cheesy or unbelievable as the action comes at you full force and at a break neck pace.

     The downside to using real life SEALs is the noticeable difference between them and the actual actors.  The villains in the film are nasty, but they are also professional actors and the emotions they evoke are believable like you would expect.  The dialogue between SEAL team members seems rehearsed and robotic.  None of these guys are really given anything interesting to say and that's likely for the best.  Fortunately, a lot of their dialogue comes in the form of narration of montages of off duty family moments and I'm sure that was by design.  When the film switches scenes between SEALs and the terrorists, the difference is quite obvious as to who is an actor and who is not.

     Because of its origin, I doubt this film was ever meant to be anything more than an exhibition of American military might and on that note the film succeeds.  I would estimate over 75% of its running time is dedicated to some of the most realistic and well thought out action set pieces I have seen in quite a while.  Maybe a good comparison might be the bank robbery sequence in Michael Mann's "Heat", but even that was a Hollywood construct.  With "Act of Valor" you feel more like your on a ride along in the front seat, embedded in the intense horror of war. GRADE: B