An armed forces propaganda video disguised as a movie? Now that's an idea! I'm surprised such a film didn't happen sooner. All kidding aside, the marketing for Act of Valor boldly asserts that it stars active duty Navy SEALs for ultimate realism. The film feels more like Call of Duty than United States Military - a group that deserves a lot of respect and recognition - and human sacrifice is buried amid high-tech combat toys and clunky sentimentality. Act of Valor has some impressive action sequences, but a film celebrating the military should amount to more than pin the tail on the terrorist.
Near the beginning of Act of Valor, Chechen terrorist Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle) detonates a bomb hidden in an ice cream truck, killing dozens of children and an American ambassador. Shabal then meets with an international drug runner, Christo (Alex Veadov), and the two plan an attack on America involving suicide bombers. After two CIA agents are attacked while casing Christo, a team of Navy SEALs is called in to trace the terrorists and stop the impending hit on America. Act of Valor quickly becomes an action film, travelling the globe and showing off the Navy's battle gear.
Using real Navy SEALs in Act of Valor lends it some authenticity, and the SEALs display their rigorous training when brandishing firearms and making kills. The best parts of Act of Valor occur when the SEALs go to work, executing a surprise water attack on a terrorist compound and firing rocket-propelled grenades during a jungle car chase. All kinds of badass tactics are employed in Act of Valor: skydiving, dropping boats from helicopters and using night-vision goggles in a firefight. The cinematography from Shane Hurlbut is sharp, and directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh have good eyes for location.
Although the weaponry is cool, the story could use some work. Act of Valor is basically a first-person shooter, and character development suffers. The film follows a group of seven SEALs, whose full names are not given. We see glimpses of family life before the SEALs deploy, as well as emotional calls home over the satellite phone. The guys have an easy camaraderie, but Act of Valor is certainly not going to win any awards for acting. The combat scenes generally work, but the film too often overloads on sentimentality and awkward patriotic speeches. These Navy SEALs sacrifice a lot, but Act of Valor too often tells rather than showing.
The America-hating terrorists at the heart of Act of Valor are typically bland, and I suspect the filmmakers simply wanted stock European and Middle Eastern bad guys. Since the tech and action work well in Act of Valor, the film might have worked better as a leaner, more-focused thriller. The filmmakers also could have expanded the character development and narrative scope to create a more involving epic. As it is, Act of Valor runs a long 110 minutes, and is less a film than a feature-length videogame. That may sound like high praise to some, but the Navy SEALs deserve better than Act of Valor.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is very impressive. Act of Valor is a great looking film, and this near-flawless transfer replicates the theatrical presentation. Colors are bold and well saturated, particularly in the jungle landscape. Detail is excellent, and the image is deep and textured. Backgrounds stretch for miles without compression noise, and black levels are generally good. The transfer handles the fast motion of combat and more intimate scenes equally well, and the image has that HD pop many crave from Blu-ray. While there is a bit of banding in one or two spots, the transfer looks great other than that.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is appropriately explosive, as is necessary for a film with near-nonstop action. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the entire sound field is used for effects-heavy scenes. Gunfire erupts from the rear speakers, explosions rock the subwoofer, and the track features some expert pans. This is a very impressive mix. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Act of Valor is a two-disc set that includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film and an iTunes/Android-compatible digital copy. The discs are housed in a Blu-ray eco-case, which is wrapped in a nice half matte/half glossy slipcover.
In the Directors' Commentary, Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy discuss the film's locations, stunts and actors, as well as their working relationship with the Navy. The guys have a lot of interesting things to say about the shoot, and I enjoyed parts of the commentary more than the film. There's also a Directors' Intro (3:12/HD), in which Waugh and McCoy discuss how the project came about. Also included are some deleted scenes (9:23/HD), several of which should have stayed in the film. A funny bit about MREs is included, as is a longer scene between Shabal and Christo. In the Interviews with Active Duty Navy SEALs (30:27/HD), the participants discuss their time in the Navy and share personal stories, and The Making of Act of Valor (5:26/HD) provides some short interview clips and behind-the-scenes footage. Real Bullets (2:13/HD) is interesting in that it reveals the actors used live ammo (!) during many of the action scenes. Real SEALs (2:32/HD) discusses the rigors of the Navy, and Silent Warriors (2:50/HD) heralds the use of active-duty SEALs. The disc also includes a Keith Urban Music Video for "For You" (4:24/HD), the Making of the Music Video (3:58/HD) and the film's theatrical trailer (2:26/HD).
Act of Valor works when its active-duty Navy SEALs actors get to use their battle smarts, but stumbles during obligatory scenes of sentimentality. A leaner, more enjoyable thriller is buried under some of this excess, and Act of Valor plays like a generic shoot-'em-up. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.