Act of Valor (2012)
Directed by: Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh | 111 minutes | action, adventure, thriller, war | Actors: Roselyn Sanchez, Emilio Rivera, Nestor Serrano, Jason Cottle, Ailsa Marshall, Gonzalo Menendez, Dimiter D. Marinov, Thomas Rosales Jr., Marc Margulies, Dan Southworth, Drea Castro, Marissa Labog, Aurelius DiBarsanti, Reginald Long, Alex Veadov, Jeffrey Barnachea, Philip Un, Keo Woolford, Jimmy Chhiu, Sarifa Salanga, Nicko Sabado, Conrad Garcia, Christian Mante
For those of you who haven’t already: Forget actors Charlie Sheen (“Navy Seals”) and Demi Moore (“GI Jane”): Act of Valor portrays the Navy SEALs as men who are truly part of this elite unit of the US military. So they literally play the part of their lives. That works wonderfully well for them and not just because they master SEALS jargon as if it were their mother tongue. Their monomaniac intransigence and concrete looks fit perfectly with this tough male film, where words, images and actions want to overwhelm you in every way. The impact of ‘Act of Valor’ is perhaps best described by a moment from the film itself, when a speedboat in camouflage colors steams into the frame at full speed, a foaming bow wave propels ashore, and the ‘ minigun’ on the bow fires an all-consuming salvo. Like twenty chainsaws attacking your neighbor’s hedge. A short shot then shows a dozen Latin American men ducking behind a rickety truck from the hail of bullets. Fortunately, they are all bad people with bad intentions.
The plot of ‘Act of Valor’, the directorial debut of former stuntmen Mike ‘Mouse’ McCoy and Scott Waugh, is pleasingly recognizable to fans of the counterterrorism genre. It includes an attack, a kidnapping, a wealthy drug trafficker on an expensive boat, and Muslim terrorist Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle) who threatens not only to blow up half of America, but also her values (“Honour, Justice, Freedom, Family” lists one of the SEALs, with the voice of a show wrestler). So a tight-knit team of Navy SEALs sets out to nip this nefarious plan in the bud. Their names: Rorke, Michael, Dave, Ajay, Sonny, Ray, Weimy. Their leader: one ‘Van O’, a man who can afford a beard as a soldier. He also plays himself, and it must be said: during an interrogation, Van O manages to keep the tension. The high-tech muscle language these cold-blooded guardians of the nation speak as they carry out a mission is emotionally counterbalanced by a beach scene, a campfire scene, and the message that one of the SEALs is about to become a father for the first time. Incidentally, this does not lead to joy in father-to-be, but to the solemn realization of his responsibility to protect the defenseless women and children of America. The grand story that ensues from that realization is portrayed on a corresponding scale. The film flies, sails and tigers all over the world: from the Philippines to Costa Rica, from Chechnya to Somalia. The slick and empathetic cinematography of Shane Hurlbut (‘Terminator Salvation’) makes it a wonderful pleasure to follow the life-threatening precision exercises of the team from the comfort of your couch. When the SEALS jump out of a plane at a height of miles you jump along as a viewer, when they emerge like curious seals from a river, you feel cold water running down your neck – ‘Act of Valor’ is full of such subjective kicks. In this way the film tries to overwhelm and tempt you to enter a battlefield where good and evil are clearly opposed to each other, separated only by the unimaginable exploits of the main characters. Like its genre contemporaries, ‘Act of Valor’ makes America’s enemies fall for the mechanical and meticulously trained violence of its defenders. The difference with other films is that ‘Act of Valor’ does not only show you a fairytale world. As mentioned, the promise of the makers is that the Navy SEALs portrayed mainly play themselves. They would still hold back. In other words: ‘Act of Valor’ provides you with a realistic insight into the soul of the SEALS: ‘this is how we experience reality’. Other realities are not addressed here, unless it has to be terrorist Abu Shabal’s cursory remark that his terror will not end as long as the terror of the United States does not stop.
Whether or not you look through the same glasses as these peace-making fighters or not, ‘Act of Valor’ is a thrilling spectacle. Partly thanks to the efforts of the army itself: the makers had access to aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, helicopters, and whatnot. With those photogenic means, the film waltzes over the not very original story like a commercial break. The common thread seems to be an offering to the individual missions, which follow each other as you also see in computer games. While the opposite is true for the Navy SEALs themselves. Whoever joins that elite unit sacrifices his individuality (and, who knows, maybe some of his humanity too) to the team and the higher goals pursued by the SEALS. But you will get a very exciting job in return.