Thursday, February 23, 2012
Review: "Act of Valor"
"Act of Valor" is a groundbreaking film, but not in a good way. It's the first Hollywood film to feature active-duty Navy SEALs in lead roles in which they play fictionalized versions of themselves. This works well for the movie's many combat scenes, which combine an unsettling amount of verisimilitude with the shoot-em-up thrills of a high-end Xbox game.
It's not such a hot move during the dialogue scenes meant to establish the characters -- e.g., spending time with their families before the big mission, exchanging letters to their wives in case they die, and so forth.
Here, they display all the acting skill you'd expect of men trained to kill for a living instead of perform for a camera: unmodulated speech, dull expressions and a level of woodenness heretofore seen only from a dime store Indian. It doesn't help that the two main characters are so similar in voice and speech, I could barely tell them apart aside from the toothpick one has continually perched in the corner of his mouth.
"Valor" also does something I've never seen before: the film opens with the co-directors, Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, introducing the movie and talking about the unprecedented level of cooperation they received from the U.S. military, and why they felt they had to cast real military personnel instead of thespians.
All I know is movies are like jokes: you shouldn't have to explain them. And even worse than having to give an explanation afterward is feeling the need to offer a preemptive one.
There are actually a few professional actors cast in supporting roles and, notably, as the two primary villains. Roselyn Sanchez plays a CIA agent kidnapped by a Russian arms smuggler (Alex Veadov), whose childhood friend (Jason Cottle) has morphed into a Muslim jihadist, which is odd since they were both born Jewish.
Never mind. From there, the plot morphs into a to smuggle explosive vests made from non-detectable ceramic beads that some Philippine recruits are supposed to detonate at all-American locations like the Sunset Strip in Las Vegas. Those bastards!
I could almost forgive the movie for its gimmicky casting and nonsensical script (courtesy of Kurt Johnstad) if the combat scenes were crisply shot and well-staged. Alas, McCoy and Waugh show little flair or even competence in portraying the firefights, falling back on the tried-and-true cheat of shaky cameras and quick editing to mask the lack of any visual coherence.
It doesn't help that the SEALs all talk in dense jargon-speak that's supposed to sound really authentic: "going downrange," calling each other "operators," etc. My favorite was when one SEAL asks solemnly if a subject will be "ambulatory." The grizzled commander informs him they must assume they will be "non-ambulatory." What they mean is whether the person can walk or not, which is what they should just say.
"Act of Valor" does contain a few moving moments, when the movie bothers to remind us that the guys behind the Kevlar vets and night scopes are representative of the men and women who fight and die to protect us. Beyond that, watching it is like playing a video game that you can hit Restart on anytime, but don't want to.
1.5 stars out of four