Fox // 2012 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Alice Nelson // May 15th, 2012
"Blackbeard to Whiplash...Assault force is moving to the target early. Request immediate fire support."
It isn't enough to call the men of SEAL Team 7 heroes; that's easy to see. They are much more complicated than cardboard cutout supermen. Many moons ago, when I was a know-it-all twenty-something with a big mouth (well that hasn't really changed), I had a different view of the military. At a dinner party with four or five gentlemen who had served their country at one point in their lives, I decided to vocalize these ridiculous notions. One of these men eventually became my husband (brave soul), but on this night they all patiently listened to my idiocy and then lovingly told me I was full of sh*t. Since then, my views have evolved, but these guys could've ripped me a new one and I would've deserved every bit of their tongue lashing. Instead they let me speak, and then firmly yet gently put me in my place. Gracious were these men, who weren't required in the least to be so polite to an ungrateful loudmouth. That's what I mean by them being so much more than heroes. Act of Valor is a good ol' fashioned war movie, in the vein of those old WWII movies where the good guys kill the bad guys, they wave the flag, and thank God unabashedly. These are men who willingly put themselves in harms way in order to keep the country they love and the people who live there safe. What a refreshing change from the drivel Hollywood has put out since the days of the Vietnam War.
The Mission: Extract CIA agent Lisa Morales (Roselyn Sanchez, The Game Plan) who's been kidnapped in Costa Rica by a smuggler named Christo (Alex Veadov, Air Force One) who's in cahoots with notorious Jihadist Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle Wag the Dog). But that isn't where things end. As SEAL Team 7 retrieves the target, they discover intel regarding Shabal's plans to wreak havoc on the US via a massive terror attic, and must now do what they do best -- root out the terrorists and stop the plot before thousands of Americans are killed.
When it was released, Act of Valor was criticized for its jingoistic point of view and reverence for the SEALs. I guess these days if a film doesn't show American servicemen as baby killing maniacs it's considered jingoistic. Well, I'm a proponent of this jingoism, though I call it patriotism, and in my book that isn't a negative. What probably offends the dainty little flowers who condemn this film is the unapologetic way with which it shows our military killing terrorists, with no signs of remorse. There are no shades of gray here; it's clear who the bad guys are and there's very definitive sense of what's right and wrong, something that's sorely missing in modern movies.
With authentic Navy SEALs in the lead roles, another audience complaint centered on the cast. Granted, though these weren't Oscar-worthy performances, any one of them could act circles around Keanu Reeves (The Matrix) and none generated the distraction we're lead to believe. In fact, these guys seem perfectly comfortable in front of the camera; the performances are natural, and it appears as if they're speaking to one another the way they would in real life.
One might think a film as militaristic as Act of Valor would be awash in political statements, but nothing could be further from the truth. We see the SEALs in their element, with barely a mention of Washington. This is an action movie, pure and simple, full of shooting, killing, and splattered brains, without a hint of political maneuvering.
Underlying Act of Valor's action is a story of the SEALs as a family. In fact, they spend the night before heading off to Costa Rica with their wives and children hosting a BBQ on the beach. It's this aspect that really sets the tone of the film, with a sense of duty, honor, and camaraderie that brings these men closer than what you often see between biological brothers. This is the side of Act of Valor most critics miss, focusing instead on their distaste for war. It's easy to dehumanize SEAL Team 7 as cold blooded killers, but whether you agree with it or not, they're only doing their job. These husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, and friends routinely make the ultimate sacrifice for their country and the people they love, by defending the US against enemies both here and abroad.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Act of Valor is directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, who got the job after shooting a video for the Navy's Special Operations Forces. The Bandito Brothers, as McCoy and Waugh call themselves, used the Canon EOS 5D to make the film, spending a fraction of what a normal Hollywood production would cost. The visuals are crisp and clear, the quality indistinguishable from a big budget movie using far more expensive equipment. The Dolby 5.1 mix does a great job of making the dialogue easy to hear while balancing it with scenes of explosions and gunfire.
Unfortunately, there isn't much in the way of bonus features on this DVD release, only commentary by the directors, deleted scenes, and trailers. The Blu-ray release offers a more robust behind-the-scenes look, some of which you can watch online at the film's the official site...for those of us still clinging to our antiquated DVD players.
Regardless of your views on the military and war in general, Act of Valor is a good stand alone action flick that doesn't pit one political view against another. The fact that the SEALs didn't want any mention in the credits typifies who these men are. They do their job and serve their country as a unit; no individual achievement outshines the work of the team. In the film, as in real life, they complete their job with little or no fanfare, and move on to the next mission.
Not Guilty, sir!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site