‘Act of Valor’ not as powerful as it could have been

Christopher K. Conner

By A Contributor

On my way in to see :Act of Valor,” the ticket taker mentioned that he had heard it was like a video game.  

Admittedly, I am not much of a video game player anymore. I have tried to pick the hobby up again a few times, but I lose interest when a game needs more than a couple buttons.

From the movie’s standpoint, the statement deflated my expectation. I didn’t want to sit through a two-hour video game.

“Act of Valor” begins with an introduction to the lieutenant and chief petty officer of a SEAL team, and eventually the entire team is introduced in the context of their family lives.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, terrorists kill an ambassador and a number of children at a school, and a CIA agent is kidnapped. The team is assigned to recover the kidnapped agent, and the information she may have about a smuggler’s connections to a Chechen terrorist.

A selling point of the film is its cast, as active duty Navy SEALs star in the film. While this should add a measure of authenticity (especially if the SEALs were allowed to advise the director when Hollywood had it wrong), even people that are playing themselves can prove to have poor delivery in the decidedly unrealistic format of a film shoot.

The difference in acting ability becomes immediately obvious when SEALs interact with actors. The lines are written to the same ability, but delivery is stiff and awkward. Likewise, the story its self is too obviously setting up the climax from the beginning. Oddly, that fact takes the burden of attentiveness to the plot off the viewer to some extent and should allow the action scenes to be what they are: displays of SEAL training and skill.

While there are some scenes where point of view was used in a way that seemed much like a first-person shooter video game, but there was something unsettling about the flow of action. Moving back and forth from first to third person shots may have enhanced the confusion and highlighted the skill SEAL team members have at identifying targets and sweeping buildings, but it also made the scenes uncomfortable. I could not escape the fact that this is no video game for these guys. The predictability of the plot did nothing to change that.

“Act of Valor” has a number of issues. Without the benefit of military service, I cannot say how accurate the representations of combat and tactics are. I wonder if the same team would be assigned to successive actions as rapidly as they are in the film, for example. Does a SEAL team know anything about the overall picture, or do they only know as much as is necessary to accomplish their mission? On a different level, some of the pyrotechnics look excessive and are probably more movie than reality.

While there are scenes in “Act of Valor” that work well, the interrogation of Christo (Alex Veadov) mixes tension and comedy in a particularly effective way, as a movie the whole package misses something. Maybe the action movie expectation is so far from reality that there is no way to bring that expectation back from “Commando,” but I was hoping “Act of Valor” might do that. The end package is not as powerful as it could have been, and that is disappointing. Maybe much of the film is like a video game, but when the act the movie title foreshadows resolves, those similarities disappear. 

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