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Review - Act of Valor

19 May 2012
Propaganda doesn't come much bloodier than this
When a rescue mission unwittingly unveils a terrorist plot that threatens the United States, an elite team of Navy SEALS go on a globetrotting mission to safeguard global peace.

Act of Valor was born out a documentary which co-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh made at the behest of the US Navy which spawned a unique idea – what if they could use the impressive hardware of the armed forces to make a dramatic film inspired by the actions of these actual soldiers. With the involvement of the Navy secure, they decided to go one step further and cast real life, active duty SEALs in the film.

The result is certainly a unique experience. Act of Valor uses its unprecedented resources to put some pretty incredible action moments on screen, even using real life ammo in certain scenes to show a new level of destruction. The gear on display and it’s use in a variety of situations, coupled with the wise decision to depict violence accurately without fear of a PG-13 rating, makes for some hair-raising stuff.

Better yet, McCoy and Waugh get up close and personal with the use of DSLR cameras and even helmet mounted cams that give sometimes give a first person view on the action. It’s intimate and gritty and the proficiency of the real-life combatants is thrilling to watch.

But Act of Valor also tries to tell a story and that’s where the threads start to unravel. Each character is laughably introduced with a graphic of vital statistics, more akin to a video game, before being given the requisite scene of back story. And the acting is simply appalling, even taking the genre into account. A laboured voice over tries to wax lyrical but threatens to send us to sleep while there’s far too much time spent on one of the soldiers telling us how much he’s looking forward to meeting his unborn child. Uh oh.

These guys are soldiers and it shows – leaving the audience reeling in disgust ever time a dramatic scene is threatened. The production tries to shore up this talent black hole by throwing in a smattering of actual actors, like Nestor Serrano and Roselyn Sanchez, but the problems are more endemic – chiefly stemming from a wordy and laughably disjointed script.

Bad acting in an action film is nothing new but there’s something quite sinister about the entire package. The backing of the US military always comes with a price and in this case there’s little doubt that the exercise is a thinly veiled recruitment video. The SEALs are painted as faultless heroes, taking down one dimensional baddies for the good of the planet. The message is not far removed from that of Team America: World Police – so much so that the first of many global map overlays started in the US before slickly scrolling East to the first destination.

Practically every second line of dialogue makes reference to family or religion, as the team carves a bloody swathe through another dozen faceless baddies. The biased slant means each engagement is heavily weighted in favour of the SEALs, who bring a ruthless amount of hardware to bear on even the most innocuous of situations. These SEALs kill an awful lot of people, in pretty bloody fashion and with little care for establishing their evil credentials.

Act of Valor is a new standard for the presentation of action scenes, using small cameras and a focus on realistic combat that’s refreshing, gritty and often breathtaking. But the dramatic scenes feel like some kind of torture and the jingoistic, close minded and pro-military message of the film is nothing short of disturbing.
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