Seeing as how the original—and current—stated purpose of Act of Valor is to act as a military recruitment video, the film’s politics should be no surprise. The movie goes out of its way to paint a black-and-white portrait of world conflict, as our team of Navy SEALs (with the promotional hook that they’re played by actual active-duty SEALs) goes off to fight only the world’s most dastardly collection of Muslim terrorists, Mexican drug cartels and Latin American guerrillas. And while Act of Valor lacks the complexity and moral ambiguity of international conflict, it’s never sneaky about its aims.
Even though I don’t agree with its aims, at the very least the film isn’t trying to put one over on me. What I do have an issue with is how slipshod a production this is. It’s less that the government spent $12 million to make a crappy movie than how crappy it is that bothers me. The film’s emotional center revolves around a couple of SEALs (since they’re active duty, their names are kept off the credits), one who narrates parts of the film and another whose wife is about to have a kid. There are no prizes for guessing which one shakes loose this mortal coil during the climax, though you should get points if you guess the cliched and mawkish manner in which he ultimately bites it. If you can imagine the inverse—some actors running around in real life attempting to nab terrorists, and how disastrously that would end—you get an idea of how awful and out of place these guys are onscreen.
This is a big drawback in the film, since you’re constantly reminded of the cast’s amateur status. Kurt Johnstad’s (300) script doesn’t help things all that much, since these guys are tied down with stilted dialogue and zero characterization. There’s never any reason to invest in the characters emotionally, and the film does no favors by making most of these guys totally nondescript. It makes all of the action scenes a jumble of guys in camouflage firing big-ass guns and, combined with Valor’s wonky editing, this serves to make one nigh-incomprehensible movie. Plus, there’s little in the way of plot, and the whole thing moves (and looks) like a video game, going from location to location, mission to mission, as our heroes try to stop terrorist attacks.
Of course, anyone watching this movie likely only wants an orgy of explosions and gunfights, and they’ll definitely get their money’s worth—even if it’s impossible to tell what or who is being blown up or shot at. There’s a certain ineptitude on display here—like the film’s need to drop in footage that’s made up of low-grade digital video, causing chunks of the film look like it was shot on a cellphone. There’s also the matter of how many of the scenes are taken directly from other films. There’s surely some kind of yet-to-be-created drinking game based around all of the times the film uses those Michael Bay-like shots of helicopters passing in front of the setting sun, for instance. There are a few strange nods to a broader cultural awareness here and there—like the bombmaker who’s playing Brahms—but many seem just as inept as the overall film. (One SEAL’s Roman Polanski reference, for instance, only served to make me suspect that no one involved had ever seen a Polanski film.) But craftmanship is not the point. The point is honor and machismo—even if it’s the kind lifted from other people’s movies. Rated R for strong violence including some torture, and for language.