Wherever you stand on the subject of American imperialism and the “Military-Industrial Complex”, the war effort of the U.S. government over the last 11 years means you’re either vehemently “proud of the troops” or sick to the teeth of the undying patriotism that is bandied around with any mention of the military.
And so it’s with this caveat that you must approach Act of Valor, Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh’s ode to the United States’ Navy SEALs. The film has a veeeeery loose plot that involves a team being dispatched on a covert operation to rescue a kidnapped CIA officer in the jungles of South East Asia before being dispatched to Ukraine, Costa Rica and Mexico to snuff out a related terrorist threat.
The film’s primary selling-point is the use of actual active duty soldiers with guidance and expert advice coming directly from the US Navy. If you’re feeling cynical you could look at this as the most elaborate and expensive recruitment video in history.
The cast is made up of unknown actors and soldiers, with the real star of the show the director of photography Shane Hurlbut. The technical challenges of an international production process actually make for a much better story than the script put down by Kurt Johnstad, a man whose only feature experience was a co-writing credit on 300, a film hardly renowned for its meaty dialogue and realistic character development. The film was shot in locations around the world on a set of Canon 5D stills cameras. These could be mounted onto head rigs making for some incredibly immersive first-person-perspective shots.
The link with computer games is obvious and marks a very deliberate strategy on the part of the film-makers, studio and military men involved with the project. The most recent Call of Duty: Modern Warfare game took in more than $400m in sales in its first week on shelves last November. Between it and EA’s Battlefield series, gamers spend billions of dollars every year for a piece of the war effort in their home.
But in a game, the cheesy cut scenes can always be skipped allowing you to jump right back into the action. Here we’re stuck watching as big Lieutenant Rourke touches his wife’s pregnant belly and says “I’ll be back home to see this little guy.” Oh please. You can train actors to pass off as soldiers in a movie, but expecting Navy SEALS to be able to realistically act out emotional scenes is another thing altogether. There were stifled laughs in our cinema, so God knows how the much more cynical audiences outside of North America will react.
The film took over 2 years to shoot so you do wonder whether all this storyline thing came as an after-thought. The action scenes are undoubtedly the project’s backbone but even the dumbest action movie needs some sort of a serviceable plot and competent actors. Why not ditch all the crappy chitchat and just make a one hour action movie throwing the audience right into the action instead of seeing “the families” get together for a beach barbecue the day before the team heads out. To say that the characters are one-dimensional implies that they’ve even been treated to a dimension. These guys are non-dimensional.
All in all, Act of Valor is a mess. The action scenes are phenomenally well-shot and fascinating for anyone with an interest in military technology, but the hodge-podge “story” and atrocious attempts at “acting” makes getting through this a slow and painful mission of its own.
USA / Directed By: Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh / Written By: Kurt Johnstad / Starring: Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez, Nestor Serrano / 111min / Action / Release: 24 February 2012 (US/Canada), 23 March 2012 (UK/Irl)