After viewing Act of Valor, a singular thought meandered through my mind that I’ve thought about often: why, oh why, is it so hard to make a decent film about modern warfare? It’s been done, of course, but not as consistently as other wars in American history. Is it because we’re to close to it? Not enough time to gain perspective or insight into the given conflict? Whatever the reason, Act of Valor is yet another entry that fails to do cinematic justice to its deserving heroes.
It’s widely known that Act of Valor features real active-duty SEALs in its leading roles. In fact, it’s been a huge part of the promotion and marketing surrounding the film. The choice to use real soldiers in a film is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I can understand the filmmakers’ desire to up the realism factor, and to their credit, the SEALs make everything look believable. But when you have a weak script to begin with, placing uncomfortable non-actors in front of the camera isn’t helping your cause. The delivery and pacing is always just a little off.
The film is also weakened by its original purpose as a training video. All of the characters throw around terminology only familiar to those in the armed forces, and in some cases, only decipherable to Navy SEALs. There is no attempt to make any sense of it to the audience, as we are continually whisked away from one location to the next, around the world. We aren’t given much information concerning plot, and in the beginning it’s especially difficult to tell how events, people, and even time is connected. Character development is also an issue. A quick rundown of names, previous tours of service, and a few scenes of the men with their families is supposed to sell us on who they are as people, but it fails to carry us throughout the film.
If Act of Valor has one strength, it’s in the staging of some pretty intense battle sequences. I shudder to think of the realism given the brutality, but it’s hard to argue with when you’re watching real soldiers in a film with presumably unlimited access to Navy resources. There is also an impressive array of space age war gadgetry to behold, and I found myself slightly mesmerized by the state of the art weaponry that turns blood spatter into a true art form.
I walked out of Act of Valor proud that I live in a country with such dedicated servicemen. I just wish that more thought was put into how to create a solid story that best portrays them and their families.
Act of Valor opens today in Philly-area theaters.