Act of Valor (Mike McCoy Scott Waugh) 2012

I’m certainly not going to say the popular thing after hearing what my friends had to say about this movie, but it wouldn’t be the first time I suppose.  I wanted to save my full review because my feelings for this need a complete dissection.

Okay so I suppose I will tackle the elephant in the room and discuss the thing which made this movie notable in the first place.  The big selling point for this movie is they use real life active duty Navy SEALs in this movie as the main characters as opposed to actors.  I oppose this on a few grounds.  For one, I really don’t see why this movie *needs* real SEALs in it.  On a discussion on another board someone brought up the fact martial artists aren’t really actors but we kind of tolerate them in those roles.  I believe there is a difference though.  Martial artists are specially trained in a physical role that cannot be done by actors.  For example, I don’t think there are many (if any) that can do the physical stunt work and choreography that Jackie Chan can do.  However when we are talking about SEALs doing genuine SEAL stuff, we are talking about procedural minutae and not anything uniquely physical.  By that I mean, a SEAL would know how they hold their gun, how they engage a threat, how they clear a house etc.  You can have actors do the things a SEAL needs to do on screen (hiring them as off camera advisors) with the added bonus being they can actually act.

I bring this up because the acting in this movie is EMBARASSING.  I’m sure the people in this movie are nice and charasmatic people in real life but I let out audible groans every time one of them had to deliver a line.  What made things worse was it seemed they picked the person with the most robotic and unemotional line reads and gave him the narration for the movie.  There is no reason for SEALs to be in this movie other than it is a cheap gimmick to draw attention to the film.  This leads me to my second point about all this attention to detail.

I…DON’T…CARE.  I guess I am talking about me personally because all my other friends seem to get hung up on all this realism.  They scream at the screen when someone salutes wrong or an emblem is out of place or a real army guy wouldn’t do X, etc.  I don’t care.  To me the story and the characters and the message are what matters.  And I’m not being hypocritical either, I don’t care if my career is portrayed wrong on the screen (my career being movie reviewer of course).  It’s all just window dressing to me.  It doesn’t matter to me because it doesn’t matter to the plot.

I’m going to go off on a mini-tangent while we are on topic about the realism of the movie.  I’ve heard people note about how good the sounds of gun shots are becuase they used live ammunition on set.  All that means is the sound editor wasn’t doing his job before.  There is no reason why anyone should be firing live rounds on a movie set.  Period.

The plot for this movie is practically non-existent.  It is the bare minimum of getting SEALs to point A to shoot bad guy B.  In fact, I think it is less than minimum because there was a moment in the third act where the SEALs are shooting up an African village and I had no idea why they were there.  Now maybe I wouldn’t rail on this so much if this was any other bland actioner.  But there is something different when the filmmakers are flat out telling you this is a recuiting tool.  Yes, this is jingoistic, xenophobic, flag waiving piece of  military porn.  It is a touch hypocritical that in a movie touting the “realism“ banner that it uses cheap emotional cliches, stock plot devices, and paints everything in the most simplistic black and white way.  The SEALs are white hats all the way, not even using “enhanced interrogation“ which is approved but wouldn’t want to damage the image of the military.  Look, I am not talking shit about the military nor am I even making a statement about our current engagements over seas.  But the comments I heard coming out of this movie were about how this felt so much like a video game and how much fun it would be to join up.  I’m against the filmmakers basically fooling people into enlisting.  War is bloody, the politics are complex, and psychologically damaging to the people that endure it.  I respect the people that do that job but wish more people actually considered the consequences before they did (or before anyone even considers war).   Now that I’m off my soap box I’ll move on.

Despite all that, I could still get into this movie if the characters were at all interesting.  They aren’t.  This is one of the biggest cast of forgettable characters ever.  In the third act one of the team makes a noble jump on a grenade and I swear I didn’t know who that guy was.  I guessed he was the guy who’s wife was expecting simply because in a war movie if you have a baby on the way you’re dead meat.  Let me put it to you another way.  I didn’t know who was narrating my film.  Isn’t that sad?  I mean, I recognized the guy every once and a while by his robotic voice but isn’t it sad I don’t know who my main character of the film is?  It’s bad when you can only recognize people by the smallest of details, like one guy has a beard or another always has a toothpick in his mouth.

This movie is loaded with action, and I simply did not care because I did not care about any of the characters.  The one character’s death in the third act is supposed to be really emotional but I didn’t care because I still don’t even know this guy’s name.  I never felt any tension when these guys were on a mission.  I know a rebuttal will be “Well, these guys are SEALs.  There wouldn’t be any tension because they are that damn good.“  Yeah, I know.  But part of drama is overcoming adversity and even SEALs encounter adversity.  The writers were trying to impart some drama by the end by having the local police say something to the effect of “You are dealing with the cartels.  Prepare yourself for a fight you were never expecting“  But still they role into the compound like nothing is different and your reaction is just “whatever“.

I feel like I should say something positive.  Well some of the cinematography is inventive by having cameras on the helmets to give the impression you are part of the team (also the feeling you are in a video game).  Although the flip side is I thought at other times the plot scenes were shot too close and even partly out of focus (it MAY be the theater projector but I doubt it).  I won’t even go into all the cheesy as hell slow motion used in many of the dramatic scenes.  There are also plenty of action scenes in this movie.  This movie did entertain the party I went with.  However, this party was very much the movie’s target demographic and if you haven’t seen it by now you probably aren’t the movie’s target demographic (nor would they listen to anything I say).  If you aren’t sure or have been on the fence about seeing it then I wouldn’t bother.  At the very least I would say wait until it is on DVD.  The best I can say is that it is a forgettable action movie that can scratch some people’s patriotic military movie itch.  But once you strip away the gimmicks and artifices all you have is a bad exploitation movie.

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