Act of Valor (Relativity Media, R)

film act-of-valor_smThe troops deserve our support. They deserve better than this.


film act-of-valor_lg

I should start this review by saying that I support our troops and have no problem seeing them portrayed in films. They are incredibly brave individuals who do things I and most other people could never do. For example, you would never send a group of actors on a Navy Seal mission. Following this same principle, you wouldn’t put a group of Navy Seals in front of a camera and ask them to act. Unfortunately, that is what the directors of Act of Valor have done. The film is basically a collection of re-enactments of real missions these Seals have done, strung together by a script from the writer of 300. I wish they had just made a documentary. They could still do their re-enactments while also doing real interviews with the troops involved. That way, we wouldn’t be burdened with a plot, these poor soldiers wouldn’t have to struggle to recite dialogue and the film would probably be a lot more gripping.

I always hate falling back on boring clichés, but Act of Valor really does feel like a video game. The plot is as generic as they come. I’ve played Call of Duty, and no one likes that game for the story. What matters is the game play. So in this case, the quality of the action dictates the quality of the movie. The action is pretty mediocre. The two directors of the film have a history in the stunt department so they have that covered, but they don’t know the best ways to move the camera and edit action sequences for their best visceral thrill.

Speaking of cameras, this film was shot largely using digital photo cameras such as the Canon 5D. These cameras have been making waves in the independent film market for a few years now, but they have never been used on a production of this scale before. The video these cameras shoot is fairly impressive on its own, but when you blow those images up to a 35mm print, they look like shit. The movie looks cheap no matter how many explosions they fit in. These cameras are also known for their extremely shallow depth of field, which becomes a problem when shooting non-actors who move their heads all over the place. This is especially problematic in an interrogation scene that would have been the best part of the movie…if I could have seen it.

The acting is bad all around. I’m not blaming the soldiers for this; there are some real actors in this movie, and they aren’t good, either. I also felt kind of uncomfortable about seeing them recreate traumatic experiences that they have really had. I would love to sit down with these guys and hear them discuss what it was like role playing something that is a very real part of their daily life. The special features on the DVD will probably be more interesting than the film itself.

The last few scenes kind of work on an emotional level, but only because we know that this stuff actually happens in the real world, not because of the film itself. The end credits got a round of applause from my audience. They were not applauding the movie; they were applauding the real-life soldiers—during the actual movie, they seemed uninvolved. The problem is, Act of Valor doesn’t feel like a real movie. With the movie’s shoddy cinematography and amateur acting, I felt wrong watching it in a theater. The troops deserve our support. They deserve better than this. | Sean Lass

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