Act of Valor Review

poster from the Bandito Brothers film Act of Valor

This week’s choice of movie was a no brainer. As I mentioned, I have a crippling weakness for actioney real life jobs, so if you’ve got a movie, documentary, or biography about a fighter pilot or a UN police officer or a rescue diver, I’m so there. Act of Valor was exciting in trailer form because it’s sort of a hybrid of all three: movie, doc, and bio, with a made up story based on true events starring both real SEALs and actors.

A team of Navy SEALs tangle with South American drug cartels, Somalian smugglers, and religious extremists to stop a smuggler/terrorist team from executing a terror attack in the United States.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie. All movies say they’re new and different but this one seemed like it actually would be. Now that I’ve seen it, however, I have to report that watching Act of Valor was not the unique experience I was hoping for. In fact, it felt exactly like watching my brother play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. I’m not sure if this reflects well on Call of Duty or badly on Act of Valor.


The reason it felt so much like watching someone else play a video game is that the filmmakers (Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy) string together a series of briefings (AKA cut scences) with shootouts in trucks and boats (vehicle sections) and helmet-cam shots (the first person shooter parts).

laser sights from the Bandito Brothers film Act of Valor

Which means we spend a lot of time looking at the backs of people’s heads.

They even go out of their way to explain how their characters have access to radar information that tells them when people are in the next room by flinging a paper airplane with a camera on it into the air and letting the leader control it on his iPad as they break into a South American compound to rescue the CIA agent (Rosalyn Sanchez) which starts off the whole terror investigation.

the CIA agent is rescued from the Bandito Brothers film Act of Valor

A…achievement… un… unlocked…. “Rescue CIA Agent.” *ding*

So just like in a video game, the bad guys don’t really have a chance, even though there are a lot more of them, and they all make squishy Dead Space noises and explode in sprays of blood whenever they get shot, which is often. Since I never play shooters anyway, it made no difference that I wasn’t affecting anything on the screen, though it did seem weird that my brother wasn’t there to yell at when the characters were making mistakes.

sniper and team leader wearing yak rugs

Just duck down and let the guy wearing the Yak rug shoot everyone from the next hill over.

It’s easy to see why the Navy wanted this movie made and gave the filmmakers enough access and gear to choke an elephant – it’s basically a two hour recruiting video, except for the part where awful things keep happening to people.

Mikey gets shot in the face from the Bandito Brothers film Act of Valor

Join the Navy, kids, and get shot in the face.

I guess they’re hoping the massive amounts of guns, rockets, helicopters, gunboats, ships, submarines and badass face paint would override any input from viewer’s self-preservation instinct. All their gear is supposed to make us realize how mega awesome it would be to join the Navy, but I realized two things, neither of which involved it being mega awesome to be shot at:

1) What a lot of money this must all cost, and
2) This elite fighting force would be completely screwed if they couldn’t pick up the phone and call in seven million dollars of high tech vehicles and support personnel when they get into trouble.

Navy helicopters and ships take a yacht from the Bandito Brothers film Act of Valor

Surrender and admit that our toys are way cooler than yours!

If anything, this made me LESS impressed with SEALs, because all this time I’d been thinking of them as MacGyvers in black Spiderman suits, slipping in and out of the shadows and taking people out with rubber bands and bent nails. There were a few cool “boots on the ground” type moments, like when the guys lurking in the water caught a drug cartel goon their sniper shot and sucked him into the water like a crocodile snapping up an antelope innocently sipping at a water hole.

SEAL heads in the water from the Bandito Brothers film Act of Valor

Yum, we will stash this under our rotting log for later.

But mostly the movie is a show of force focused on gear and getting rescued. The really annoying thing is that I have no idea how much of it is true. It says in the beginning that it’s based on “true acts of valor” but that could mean anything. The only thing that’s certain is that the SEALs are played by SEALs whose names we don’t know. This is supposed to be some sort of protective measure, I guess, but if the Navy really wanted to protect these guys they wouldn’t PUT THEIR FACES ON TV.

Lt leaves his wife from the Bandito Brothers film Act of Valor

Hello, I’m a Navy SEAL, please kill me. And also this lady, who is probably not really my wife.

There are some actors in the movie, of course. They couldn’t get real terrorists to play the terrorists and real CIA agents are too smart to show their faces in a movie. But all the SEALs are real, which is awesome for the actiony parts, because this type of acting is what they do all day anyway as they practice for their missions. They’re a little stilted in the conversation parts (and interchangeable), but they’re still better actors than a lot of professionals I’ve seen (*coughNicholas Cage), and it’s really funny to see them having normal-guy water cooler conversations while falling out of an airplane.

SEALs during a HALO jump from the Bandito Brothers film Act of Valor

So did you guys see Glee last night?

The problem is that the movie doesn’t trust them to manipulate our emotions properly, and resorts to weepy violin music, sunsets, sappy narration, and cliched heroic acts to tug on our heartstrings, which is just annoying. It’s trying to be Ladder 49 for Navy SEALs, but it just can’t get there, no mater how many expectant fathers tragically (and stupidly) throw themselves onto grenades. (I mean, really: the only reason they don’t kick/throw the grenade away is because there needs to be a sad part now.)

funeral from the Bandito Brothers film Act of Valor

*Insert weepy trumpet music*

So would I recommend Act of Valor? Not really. I want to, but I just can’t. It’s too sappy, too fake, and too in your face. So I guess I’m going to have to keep looking for that really good documentary, because this isn’t it.

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