Movie Review: Act of Valor
A war film with real-life authenticity: Active Navy SEALs play themselves in a fictionalized account of a mission to rescue a CIA agent and stop a terrorist plot. Using real ammunition, weaponry and tactics, it's like a combination of video game and recruitment film.
Starring: Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez and Nestor Serrano
Rating: Two stars out of five
Real-life Navy SEALs play the warriors in Act of Valor, which is a sort of extended recruitment video that shows these fearsome commandos at work -- blasting away with high-tech weaponry at "foreign nationals" -- and at play, where they say things like, "It's hotter than two rats screwing a wool sock."
Actually, that's about it for the play. The United States Navy's Special Warfare Command approved Act of Valor, and the United States Navy is not in the habit of fooling around, my friend. Just ask Mr. Osama bin Laden.
Act of Valor thus comes to Canadian cinemas as a real oddity: a good old-fashioned American propaganda film except for, you know, the part where I said "good." It's also a glimpse into the secretive world of the SEALs, men who can do anything -- rescue hostages, kill terrorists, save the free world -- except act. To be fair, most of the between-action sequences have people saying things like, "I'll tell you what, that was solid work," and I'm not sure even Sir Laurence Olivier could have done much with that.
Things get more interesting when the eight men in the platoon -- Chief Dave and Lieutenant Commander Rorke and so on, all identified only by first name -- go into the field. Their fictional operation ("based on real acts of valor," it says) is to retrieve a female CIA agent (Roselyn Sanchez) from the clutches of a terrorist group that has caught her in Costa Rica and is torturing her with an electric drill.
The operation is filmed with a documentary love for the details: co-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, who are former stuntmen, even have their cast use live ammunition. We see how SEALs parachute in, use a miniature drone called a "raven" to get aerial views of the enemy, aim their laser sights at Latino sadists for whom killing is too good, if you want my opinion, and then flee by truck, gunboat and helicopter. It's called extraction and, believe me, your dentist couldn't have done it more efficiently.
But their troubles aren't over, because there's also the matter of Christo (Alex Veadov), a Russian arms dealer or drug smuggler or something, who is about to sell Islamic terrorists some suicide vests that -- because they use ceramic ball bearings -- could be worn right into the White House. They would do it, too: We've already seen them putting a bomb-filled ice-cream truck in a schoolyard, then luring children with a hurdy-gurdy version of "Camptown Races." "Camptown Races!" These are people who will stop at nothing.
Act of Valor doesn't progress much, as what we know as a "movie," but it flies along as a showcase of modern weaponry and tactics. It also doubles as a video game, with cameras on the heroes' helmets to give us the first-hand point of view of several messy kills. The movie doesn't actually come with joysticks, but its target audience should be able to provide their own, if you catch my drift.
Written by Kurt Johnstad -- who similarly lionized the brave few in 300 -- Act of Valor takes care to portray the SEALs as ethical men. "Honor, freedom, justice and family," are the values espoused, according to a baritone voice-over that gives the movie a tone of stoic heroism. The SEALs chief captures Christo, but the worst he can threaten him with is the fact that, if he doesn't co-operate, he may miss his daughter's eventual wedding. The only mistreatment comes in calling him "Crisco."
Some of the SEALs in Act of Valor pay the price for their heroism, just as some do in real life. But it's a great, brave price, and if I were 30 years younger, 30 times more courageous, and could say things like, "A single twig will break; a bunch of twigs is strong" without choking and giving away my position, I might be tempted to join up myself. I wonder if those ammunition belts come in a relaxed fit.