Act of Valor (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Act of Valor (2012)

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If you've played any of the Modern Warfare iterations of the Call of Duty series (which, if you're watching Valor, you most likely have), the plot should seem fairly familiar to you: A group of military bad-asses (in this case Navy SEALs) undertake a routine prisoner extraction only to uncover a much larger conspiracy involving drug dealers and religious extremists. This sets them off on a globe-spaning adventure filled with explosions and references to 9-11. However, unlike the video games, Valor also takes time to delve into the personal lives of the recruits.

After seeing how Valor handled the whole “civilian problems” aspect of the recruits, I can see why it was dropped from the video games. I'm not going to harp on the acting in the film, because I found it conceptually interesting. In a way, Act of Valor is kind of the opposite of every other action movie out there: Instead of actors pretending to be soldiers, it's soldiers pretending to be actors. However, the civilian portion of the film are incredibly dull and do very little to develop the characters, and ultimately amount to little more than “This guy has a pretty sweet home-life, wouldn't it be totally sad and shit if he DIED?!” Chekhov's Expectant Father, I suppose.

Baby Daddy Recruit does his best Jason Statham impression.

Actually, the duality of the acting in Valor, between the ham-fisted “civilian” scenes and the completely natural “military” scenes, really illustrates what directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh were trying for: A realistic depiction of the SEALs and how they operate. But then they must have realized that 90 minutes of soldiers shooting terrorists wouldn't make for as good a movie as it would a video game, and decided to pad it out by exploding the SEAL's personal lives.

Unfortunately, while the tactics and gun play fit their goals, the civilian parts suffer. The civilian dialog seems clunky and unnatural because, well, it is unnatural for the recruits. It isn't their story, their life, their problems. They don't “know” the problems of these characters they are trying to portray. It's painfully manufactured, and that's reflected by the poor acting of the recruits, in particular Protagonist Recruit's dull as dirt monologues.

Allow me to whip-up an analogy: Imagine if my fellow Can't Stop the Movies writers were hired to act in a film about, of all things, film reviewers. However, instead of playing ourselves, we were playing fictional characters who also happen to be film reviewers, but with problems and life experiences different from our own. Now none of us are actors, but the film makers don't care. No, what they want is an incredibly realistic depiction of film critics criticizing films. That, we can do, but the manufatured drama, the “lives” of the characters we're portraying, is alien to us and so we stumble, as best we can, through the scenes until we get to something we actually know how to do.

Act of Valor works in the same way.

There something in the scene about the "truth" and not being able to "handle" it. Or something about terrorism, I forget.

What really struck me about this film was how casually I accepted the on-screen violence. A lifetime of horror films, video games and Internet shock-videos have done a pretty decent job of desensitizing me to fictional depictions of violence. After all, it's only a movie; I know that when the credits role all the dead henchmen and terrorists and SEALS will get up, wipe off the fake blood and go home. And besides, haven't I seen and, by extension, committed equally heinous acts upon digital bad-guys in video games which may or may not bare a striking resemblance to this film?

But in all those instances there is a sense of fantasy, of glorification of the violence that takes something horrible and amps it up to almost comical levels. The victims of Jason Vorhees, the video game marines who explode into geysers of blood and body parts that couldn't possible exist, all take horrifying ideas and seemingly sanitize them through exaggeration. Valor doesn't do that. It presents the violence as clinical, mundane; Shoot bad-guy in head, move on, repeat.

To Valor's credit, I don't feel that the violence it depicted was being glorified. There were no slick slo-mo shots of heads exploding, or what have you, and yet I was bothered by this. The violence in Valor is routine; part of a job, no different than butchering meat or filing tax forms. That somehow makes it all the more chilling.

The true meaning of valor? Hero walking; all day, everyday.

As a film, it would have been more interesting as a documentary on SEALs tactics, or as a reenactment, though of course it would have lacked the “global conspiracy” angle, the satisfying narative conclusion. As a collection of action scenes, it would have been better done as Call of Duty: SEALs Edition. If you're a Call of Duty fan, or you have an fascination with the American military that borders on obsession, you will love the shit out of this movie. If you love explosions and dudes getting shot in the head, you'll enjoy most of this film. If you're looking for something beyond bullets and explosions, such as engaging characters or narrative or maybe something more insightful, such as the nature of valor, or war, you will find nothing here.

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Posted by Jacob

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  1. this sounds really interesting. maybe i’ll check this out

  2. We’ve seen this picture….twice….and it’s amazing. The production value that the Bandito Brothers achieved with their budget is nothing but unprecedented, and the action sequences are the best modern combat action sequences ever captured on film. This movie, which leaves politics at the door, will revive the war genre. Can’t wait to see it again! Well done Mouse, Scotty and the rest of the Bandito Brothers Team!! And in case you’re curious…Musa Inc. did not work on this film.

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