by Tim Ross
One of the most important perspectives one can take into an action film is a willing suspension of disbelief. It’s a sure bet the hero or heroes will shoot straighter, jump higher and perform feats of strength that would cause a skeptic to roll their eyes.
So, when I walked into the theater to see “Act of Valor,” I wasn’t sure whether to bring my suspension of disbelief or leave it in the car. After all, the film was made with real Navy SEALs and based on what could be real missions. I entered the screening room with uncertainty and left impressed at the SEALs and the filmmakers who made “Act of Valor” an exciting, uncompromising film with action I could actually believe in.
Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh made a lot of smart decisions, including the way they opened the film. It begins with them talking about how the Navy approached them with the idea, why they use active-duty SEALs and what they set out to do. That was a great way to set the audience up to like these soldiers as actors no matter what their level of on-camera presence.
“Act of Valor” is rife with clichés but it seems clear that these guys talk this way in real life, and writer Kurt Johnstad’s script also helps the film hold up. His story leaves no doubt who is good and bad, right and wrong. There are no political quandaries, difficult decisions or complex intrigue.
The team of SEALs, most of whom are still active duty, set out to rescue a captive CIA agent but find themselves in the middle of a terrorist plot by one madman trying to assemble a team of suicide bombers to enter the U.S. en masse.
The trail the SEALs follow requires them to jump out of airplanes in the dark of night, fight door-to-door in urban warfare and deal with unknown dangers around virtually every corner. They meet all of these challenges in what appear to be entirely authentic action sequences. In fact, “Act of Valor” may just change the way action films are made.
The action is often presented straight out of the first-person shooter games. These guys really are jumping out of airplanes and firing their weapons with live rounds, and our point of view is often the gun barrel. I think it’s safe to say Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis wouldn’t be excited about the idea of live fire.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of this action film is how tense but realistic it seems. Nobody leaps from impossible heights, does barrel rolls with guns blazing, sustains unsustainable damage or manhandles multiple attackers with fists of fury. These men work as a team, follow orders, walk through most of their action and they enter unknown and lethal situations without hesitation. The anticipation of death and danger are far more compelling than the oversaturation of unbelievable action sequences in Hollywood films.
Like “The Hurt Locker,” “Act of Valor” gets its thrills in the anticipation and possibility of danger punctuated by short, violent bursts of action. However, it is a movie and that means it needs a narrative, conflict and drama and professional actors provide the appropriate foils for our heroes.
“Act of Valor” is not a film for those who love great acting but it is a curiosity and it rings especially true when you watch real soldiers say goodbye to loved ones, knowing they may never see them again.
Grade: 3 out of 4
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence including some torture, and for language
Cast: Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez, Nestor Serrano
Studio: Relativity Media