Sunday, February 26, 2012

Act of Valor: A Parable of Propaganda or Fist-Pumping Patriotism? Neither.

     You may have seen the movie trailer for Act of Valor during the Super Bowl a few weeks ago. At first, it seemed like a commercial for the Navy, one of those ads that ends with the words, "Be One, Be Strong, Be Navy" (or whatever those recruitment commercials state at the end). But then the preview continues, showing some impressive military action for just a small commercial. Then the realization truly sets in: this is a film starring active duty Navy Seals, a fictional account using the military's newest and brightest tactics and technology. It was difficult to not be a little curious, or even excited if you were or are a member of the armed forces. Due to it's peculiar nature (initial filming was even supposed to be a recruitment video for the Navy), Act of Valor is a unique film to review.
     Let's get a few things out of the way first: these are my impressions and opinions on Act of Valor as a motion picture. I don't care if you're pro-war or anti-war, if you think a movie starring active duty Navy Seals is a glorification of violence against people of other nationalities, or if you think this film is meant to brainwash your children to strap on an M4, sign up for the military, and go blow the head off of some Jihadist (I surely am no closer to signing my name up--action movies are called "escapist entertainment" for a reason). I care about how this movie works as a movie. On that account, it basically succeeds: Act of Valor is an entertaining movie with sub-par acting but awesome action set pieces. Sort of the way it would be if you made a movie starring non-actors who killed people on dangerous missions for a living.
     As I said before, the film started out as an idea to recruit people on the fence about joining the Navy. From there, the filmmakers realized that the action was exciting and thrilling enough to turn into a motion picture. Act of Valor is essentially based around two Seal missions: one is about rescuing a kidnapped CIA operative who has been taken to a fortified encampment in the jungle. During this mission, the Seals recover a phone that provides information on a terrorist plot against America. The second mission is stopping this threat in the cartel-controlled towns and maze-like underground tunnels on the Mexi-Cali border.
     These two missions and the execution of them provides the film with all of its thrill and excitement. If my grade of this film was solely based on these great action scenes, I would give it an A-. The jungle extraction starts with amazing stealth and sniper head shots. The violence is quick and brutal, which each shot landed sounding like a squished watermelon. As the team moves closer and closer and then finally into the village, the combat switches to quick close quarter shooting within the shanty buildings. The truck chase and boat combat that follows is just icing on the bloody cake. This sequence of events was my favorite in the film. But the mission on the Mexico border was great too: full of bombs, grenades, and heroic acts of bravery, this dark and gritty portion of the film was violent and filled with a sense of sadness. The only detriment to the action scenes in Act of Valor was the director's overuse of the first person camera angle. I know you want video game players to purchase tickets for your movie, but over reliance on this technique caused a few minutes of the battle to feel like Call of Duty 17: Navy Seals. If I wanted to wish I had a controller in my hand, I would have stayed at home and grabbed a controller.
     Everything other than the missions and execution of them is the worst part of the film. If my grade of this film was solely based on the acting, character development, and interaction between the Seals and their families before and after the missions, I would give it a D. The Seals in the film were portrayed by real Navy Seals. I surely didn't need any convincing of that after the first three minutes of the film's run time. There is no need to speak of any specific performances, as they are all interchangeable. Two cringe-worthy scenes come to mind: one in early in the film as two Seals sit at a bar table drinking beer, and one announces that him and his wife are having a baby. The conversation is hollow and robotic. The other scene is one of the same Seals saying goodbye to his wife as he leaves for deployment. It's as if you grabbed two random strangers and had them read the script in monotone. Unfortunately the acting isn't so bad it's funny, like in The Room--it's just bad.
     One may argue that these dudes are cold, calculated killing machines, so you can't expect them to show emotion. And that's fine: but you can still show no emotion and be good at acting. Does anyone remember Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men? When in combat, these fellas don't need to act, because combat's what they are incredibly good at. It's natural. But take them out of that, and it doesn't make for a great motion picture. Luckily, the intelligent, brutal, gadget-filled action scenes hold the movie well above the shit pile. Act of Valor doesn't bother with the important questions about what happens to these men after they get maimed or injured, after they get sent home to little fanfare, after their friends brutally die in front of their eyes. It leaves those questions for the next documentary. Act of Valor focuses on which direction the next threat is coming from and how fast the Seal team can foil the plot.     (B-)

No comments:

Post a Comment