Made with or without U.S. Department of Defense cooperation, fictional films about the American military favor narratives in which (mostly) men buck authority, risk their necks in bouts of jealous infighting and go the lone-wolf route in pursuit of the enemy.
Here's how a frankly strange film came to be. According to Rear Adm. Denny Moynihan of the Navy Office of Information, quoted in
All movies start somewhere; this one derives from a seven-minute training video on the Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen. Sports documentary veterans Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh expanded on their short film once the Navy signed off on a fictionalized SEALs adventure. "300" co-writer Kurt Johnstad wrote a script. The real-life SEALs share the screen with such actors as
"Act of Valor" plays like a highly favorable SEALs tribute placed atop a vaguely bogus storyline. After a bloody Philippines-set prologue, the story follows a SEALs team sent into Costa Rica to extract Sanchez's Morales, whose captors work for an oily drug lord (played by Alex Veadov). There's a larger problem, too, involving the smuggler's Chechen Muslim associate (Jason Cottle) whose plans for global terrorism include a multicity attack on the U.S.
Thanks to its nonprofessional actors' facility with weaponry, "Act of Valor" contains shots and parts of entire sequences that feel different, and truer, than the average war picture. The filmmakers' access to a full range of modern weaponry, including a nuclear submarine, lends an aura of credibility — that is, at least until the combat sequences obsess, again and again, on splattery kill shots to the head. The action beats come straight out of the video game "Call of Duty." And when you have real SEALs placed in a picture that lives and dies on the same old first-person-shooter aesthetic, you have a film divided against itself.
"No one is stronger and more dangerous than a man who can harness his emotions," we hear at one point in a eulogy. I wish "Act of Valor" conveyed more of that real danger.
MPAA rating: R (for strong violence including some torture and for language)
Running time: 1:41