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Film review: 'Act of Valor' more recruitment film, less feature film

February 27, 2012|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • In this image released by Relativity Media, a scene is shown from the film "Act of Valor," starring real, active-duty Navy SEALs.
(AP Photo/ Relativity Media)


Perhaps the biggest selling point for "Act of Valor" is that its principal cast is made up of active-duty Navy SEALs instead of traditional actors.

I certainly don't mind the decision to use real-life heroes for this or any other film, but I do mind that this is the first thing that the commericals mention. It's as if the film is anticipating criticism over bad acting and is trying to guilt everybody into not expressing these opinions.

For the record I have no problem with the acting in the film, maybe it's a little stiff at times, but even with traditional actors I would chalk it up to SEAL discipline. The real problem with the film is that it doesn't develop its characters and even with extended sequences of explosions and shooting doesn't give them anything terribly interesting to do.

There are a few moments where the SEAL squad hangs out on a beach before they deploy. Rorke has several kids. Dave has one on the way. The others get even less backstory. Soon the team is sent to rescue a CIA agent (Roselyn Sanchez) who was onto something big and is now being tortured. They uncover a plot to attack the United States with a new kind of exploding vest. Firefights and plenty of explosions ensue. And one member of the team performs the ultimate Act of Valor. There isn't much in the way of plot. I guess when the villains are terrorists there isn't a lot of explanation needed for why they need to be stopped.

This is the kind of film that likes to show off as many elements of SEAL-related excitement as it can. There's actually more air than water involved, the only watercraft that really come into play are rinky-dink fan boats used during the rescue. The most impressive sequence of the film involves skydiving, the kind of sequence where I feel sorry for the camera operators who have to do their jobs while plummeting 30,000 feet. I once got fed up trying to film the local Cinema Center building from the passenger seat of a car. Needless to say the guys who do that in midair are immensely talented.

The film has a unique feature to its cast even more unusual than the fact that they're real Navy SEALs. With the exception of the bad guys and Roselyn Sanchez, the lead actors are anonymous.

Usually when I say "anonymous" I mean that they were virtual unknowns who have now gotten their big break and are now going on to bigger and better things. But this time when I say "anonymous" I mean that the film refuses to divulge who they are. Whether this is because of security reasons or something to do with humility I do not know. But imagine getting a starring role in a multimillion dollar film and not even having your name appear in the credits.

I'm told that "Act of Valor" started life as a recruitment film and I believe that. If it were a recruitment film, it would promise the excitement of guns, explosions, saving the country from terrorists, and rescuing beautiful women. It's also a good explanation for why the characters are such blank slates.

Potential recruits would need to picture themselves in the shoes of the characters and giving them too many traits would make them less relatable. But some of the more tumultuous moments of "Act of Valor" make it unsuitable as a recruitment film, so it's just passing itself off as straightforward entertainment, a level where it also doesn't fit.

There's no denying that everybody behind "Act of Valor" had their heart in the right place, but the film can't seem to make up its mind if it wants to appeal to military prospects or action fans.



Two Stars out of Five.



"Act of Valor" is rated R for strong violence including some torture, and for language. Its running time is 111 minutes.



Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.

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