Theatrical Review: Act of Valor

A deep-cover CIA operative has been working within the system of a Philippine drug ring run by a man known as Christo.  Christo is suspected of having deeper ties to organized terrorism, but so far is just suspected.  The operative has been discovered and now she’s being tortured to tell what she knows.  An elite Navy SEAL team, SEAL Team 7 under the command of Lieutenant Rorke and Chief Dave has been dispatched to rescue her and in the process uncover a plot of potential devastating terrorism that takes their team around the world in order to stop it.

That’s the premise to Act of Valor, a movie that I’ve been looking forward to ever since first seeing it’s trailer in the fall of 2011.  This movie has been promoted by the fact that the SEAL team is in fact being played by real-life active duty Navy SEALs. So right off the bat, in the eyes of some that could be a huge drawback simply because these guys aren’t professional actors.  Personally though, I thought it was a breath of fresh air.

Because they’re not professional actors, Act of Valor doesn’t feel the need to go into it’s characters in an overly complicated way.  Near the start of the film, before the SEALs are deployed, they’re enjoying time with their families all together on a beach.  As their party draws to a close, the SEALs come together with the leaders of the team right off the bat asking everyone if there’s any sort of personal or financial problems that any of them have.  They basically want to put those to rest right away so that everyone’s mind is purely on the mission at hand.  Doing this takes that whole little bit of overcomplicating the characters right out of the picture and instead concentrates on the action, the plot and the fact that these guys are the very best at what they do and as one should expect, upstanding people who you can count on.

What you get is an incredibly slick piece of entertainment that has total authenticity to it’s action.  The action set pieces are incredibly well made and you really do get an accurate idea of what it must be like to be right in the midst of the type of firefights that these guys have to endure.  From what I understand, this is the first feature film from directors Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh, though you’d never know.  The action scenes are extremely compelling and the whole thing is edited with a tight pace.

If I have any criticism at all about the movie, it’s in the fact that something that happens to one of the SEALs is telegraphed at the very beginning of the film and so when this event does happen, it doesn’t quite have the impact that it should.  You’re basically expecting this to happen at some point and while I get why it was done, I’d like to think that there should’ve been a way to get the same points across without telegraphing this action.  These guys aren’t professional actors, but at least in my case, I still tended to give a damn about them and felt just a little robbed at not getting the emotional impact from this bit of business that I should’ve gotten.  It’s not a dealbreaker by any means, and the end denouement supplies a pretty darn satisfying emotional resolution  to the life these men have chosen to lead.

Normally, I’d take a little time to specifically talk about the actors and their performances, but because these guys are active duty SEALs, their full names aren’t given in the end credits.  For not being professional actors, I think these guys do a pretty good job at getting you sucked into the action particularly Rorke and Dave and a character known as Senior who acts as an interrogator.  Their line delivery may not be as professional as it could be, but it’s more than made up for by their screen presence, authentic actions and facial expressions.

Act of Valor is  a very entertaining and unique film.  It’s distinctly made (at least to me) outside of the Hollywood system and yet it’s action can stand head and shoulder with films like Black Hawk Down or We Were Soldiers.  This is real stirring filmmaking and needless to say (though I’ll say it anyway), highly recommended.

By Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

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