Act of Valor review
Act of Valor, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor — the title of this film is no accident. It is a laser-guided missile aimed straight at fans of modern warfare first-person shooters. It flaunts its cast of real, active-duty Navy SEALs and missions based on the real thing, but when the camera jumps to the all-too familiar first-person view of a holographic scope, all I thought about were video games.
The film follows a team of SEALs as they unravel a terrorist plot to cross the Mexican border and attack major cities in the United States. In the build-up to this ultimate goal, we are taken on a globe-trotting journey, bouncing between SEALs on various missions and the terrorists plotting their next moves. As we jump to each new destination, a flashy overlay points out coordinates and mission objectives, just like a Modern Warfare loading screen. The film even seems to use a similar font for subtitles.
In the opening acts, I was surprised by how this story-telling device succeeded in a film. It really was like watching a Call of Duty movie, albeit with some overwrought patriotism and wooden acting.
Newsflash: Navy SEALs don't make for good actors! When they're pretending to do their job it works, but as soon as they're forced to have genuine conversations it turns into amateur hour. Captain Price and Soap MacTavish deserve digital Oscars in comparison to these guys.
When the film jumps to the terrorists, who are played by real actors, we get some of the most genuine and compelling moments in the film. As propaganda-ish as most of Act of Valor is, it's surprisingly refreshing that it spends any time on the bad guys or paints them as anything but evil villains. They are ultimately evil villains anyway, but some decent acting was a breath of fresh air.
As often as Act of Valor bounces from one set-piece to the next, it bounces between a movie I enjoyed, and one that left me groaning with my head in my hands. The first mission, a jungle operation in which the SEALs must extract a CIA operative behind enemy lines, is quite exciting to watch. There is something genuinely awesome about watching bad ass dudes being effective — it's a universal truth — whether you're talking about the Bourne trilogy or a film designed to fill up recruitment centers.
When the operations go sour, so does the film-making. Dollops of unnecessary slow motion ruin the pacing, the tragic music kicks in, and soldiers start stroking the American flags on their chests. One guy in my theater yelled out a big 'ole oorah; I guess those moments were for him.
There are some enjoyable bits to Act of Valor. It has a hard edge to it that I appreciated, and the action can be pretty fun. It even does the globe-trotting terrorism plot justice for a decent portion of the movie. Everyone is piling on the film for being transparent with its patriotic propaganda, and I didn't want to jump on the bandwagon, but it really does a lot to undo the better qualities of the film. When the credits roll and the song about sacrificing yourself to a cause kicks in, complete with pictures of firefighters rescuing babies, it becomes a very difficult movie to seriously recommend.
Act of Valor requires a stomach for overwrought patriotism as much as a stomach for violence, but if you can deal with both, you may find yourself enjoying it a bit more than you expected; I certainly did.