There’s a brilliant meditation on the nature of the warrior waiting to come out of Act of Valor. Using active duty Navy SEALs in a tale of men trying to prevent a terrorist attack on U.S soil, the film is equal parts meditation on the nature of the warrior and of combat itself as well as a splendidly put together action film. The problem is that none of these elements involve an emotionally investing character arc that makes us get completely involved. As it stands, Act of Valor winds up being a good but not overtly memorable action film.
With the names of the SEALs not used in the film, as the Department of the Navy has wished their anonymity, the film follows a squad taking part in covert operations across the globe to prevent a terrorist attack sponsored by a Russian arms dealer (Alex Veadov). Starting off with the rescue of a CIA operative (Roselyn Sanchez) in deep cover, the film follows the squad as they uncover a much larger operation going on and seek to prevent it. Globe-trotting through a variety of methods, the squad faces death at every turn from those who wish to harm the innocent.
Focusing on the SEALs between and during missions as they balance their family lives and their professions, there’s a brilliant insight into the mind of the modern day warrior waiting to come out from Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh. As they try to balance out the complexities of their profession with their personal lives we see the SEALs as both the highly trained warriors standing ready in the night to visit violence, as Churchill was quoted as saying, and as normal everyday men trying to be good fathers, husbands and friends to one another. There’s an insight waiting to come out about this; we get to see the internal struggles and the toll their profession takes on their lives.
But the problem is that in casting real life SEALs for roles only SEALs could excel at physically McCoy and Waugh have painted themselves in the corner. None of the SEALs are all that strong as actors and the film’s clichéd dialogue and pedestrian story fall flat from rank amateurs. When the film isn’t in an action sequence it suffers greatly; at some points the film is almost cringe worthy in that regard. The film has a terrific emotional finale about the price the warrior pays but unfortunately it doesn’t hit as hard as it could because there’s no build up to it. The sheer power of it is testimony to the emotional resonance the source material has on its own.
The film’s climax resonates because we can feel that these are good men who’ve made the choice to be society’s grand protectors. And there are little moments in the film that give us an insight into that particular quality; early on during the initial rescue Sanchez is only clad in her underwear as underlings try to get her to talk. During the rescue, as they prepare to leave the compound, they put a blanket on her to give her some decency. It’s a small moment that could go unnoticed but it immediately lets you know about the kind of men these SEALs are.
And it’s a shame because the film’s action sequences are rather special. It must be easy to use actual warriors in cinematic combat because they don’t look out of place. From the way they move to the way they do everything the authenticity of each man being a member of one of the military’s elite fighting units gives each action sequence a special feeling. These aren’t actors pretending to be soldiers for a film; these are warriors bringing a level of realism to a medium that rarely has it. Waugh and McCoy have spent a significant amount of time designing the film’s action and it shows.
Act of Valor has a special quality to it that few films have and can’t quite capitalize on it.
Director: Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh
Notable Cast: Roselyn Sanchez, Alex Veadov, Dimiter Marinov
Writer(s): Kurt Johnstad