A scene from the film "Act of Valor," starring real, active-duty Navy SEALs. / Relativity Media
'Act of Valor'
Two stars (out of four)
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Two stars (out of four)
You will doubtless hear that "Act of Valor," a film in which active-duty Navy SEALs star as the real-life action heroes that they are, is a glorified recruiting document.
And in many ways it is -- for professional actors.
At the beginning of the film, directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh appear on-screen, explaining that not only are the service members in the movie not professionally trained actors, but that live ammunition was used in much of the action footage.
But they go on to say that, once they had met the SEALs -- the film really did start out as a recruiting tool -- and spent years embedded with them, observing the sacrifice their job requires, as well as the toll it takes on their families, "how could an actor truly portray that?"
Pretty well, I'd guess, if he were good enough. This is not to demean in any way the work the SEALS do. They killed Osama bin Laden! They are heroic in ways those of us who sit on the sidelines can never comprehend. They deserve all the honor we can bestow upon them, and I mean that genuinely.
But that doesn't make them good actors, and it doesn't make "Act of Valor" a good movie. It's an OK one -- the strategy sessions for raids are fascinating, and the action itself is outstanding. But it would benefit greatly from having real actors in the major roles. That the bad guys -- who are actors -- are more charismatic is certainly not due to the fact that we are on their side. It's because they know how to make us want to watch.
The film begins with the SEALs, or, in their parlance, "operators," about to embark on a mission, the extraction of a woman who has been kidnapped. We learn that Lt. Commander Rorke -- the SEALs aren't credited, so it's not clear if that is really his name -- is about to become a father, and that Chief Dave is a father of five, who can't keep the news of Rorke's fatherhood quiet. It's nice enough, but the portrayals are wooden, the sentiments cliched.
Soon, however, they are on the move, ready to snatch the kidnapped woman from her captors. The build-up and execution are flat-out insane, in a good way. This is the rare case in which jerky, hand-held cameras are of benefit; they add to the realism and suspense.
What was supposed to be a one-shot affair leads to a much bigger problem: A jihadist (Jason Cottle) is working to send suicide bombers into the U.S. with advanced weapons; his childhood friend who happens to be an arms dealer (Alex Veadov) is helping in this pursuit -- and the clock is ticking.
That means springing immediately into action, which is in itself one of the more interesting plot points. When duty calls for these guys, there is no rest, no time to recuperate. You have just risked your life to save someone you don't know and never really will. Now go do it again.
Screenwriter Kurt Johnstad plows ahead in a relatively straightforward, predictable manner (he also wrote "300"). It is the kind of story this sort of film demands, and it's the kind of story many people want.
But, while the intentions behind "Act of Valor" are sterling, it's also a story that could have been better told. One wishes the filmmakers would have trusted it to professional actors, who might have more fully realized the material.
You will doubtless hear that 'Act of Valor,' a film in which active-duty Navy SEALs star as the real-life action heroes that they are, is a glorified recruiting document. And in many ways it is --
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