Saturday, October 6, 2012

"Act of Valor" (2012)

Starring Jason Cottle, Alex Veadov and Roselyn Sanchez
Written by Kurt Johnstead
Directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh
Rated R - Violence, language
Running Time: 110 Minutes

Two CIA agents, Lisa (Roselyn Sanchez) and Walter (Nestor Serrano) are ambushed in Costa Rica after uncovering evidence that a smuggler named Cristo (Alex Veadov) has formed an alliance with a terrorist named Shabal (Jason Cottle).  Walter is killed, but Lisa is tortured for information.

Navy SEAL Team 7, led by "Rorke," is tasked with her retrieval.  His team infiltrates the camp where she's being held and recovers her, but also finds a cell phone.  On this cell phone is intel that Shabal is planning an attack on American soil.  Thus, the SEALs are ordered to continue on the mission, their ultimate goal to find Shabal and stop his devastating attack.

It seems Shabal has cultivated at team of suicide bombers and equipped them with a devastating new weapon: bomb vests with explosive ceramic ball bearings sean directly into the fabric... which are completely invisible to metal detectors.  With the deadline approaching, the SEALs must give their all to stop Shabal and save America.

"Act of Valor" is a fascinating, if flawed, film.  As a technical exercise, it is very impressive.  As a film, as a piece of art, not as much.  The story is simplistic, and the casting of real-life Navy SEALs is intriguing but ultimately saps the film of any real drama.

The SEALs do excellent work in the action sequences, since they know exactly how to move, what to say, how to say, what to do, in exactly these types of situations because... well... they're the experts.  The problem is that the film wants to humanize them for us, and make them into characters.  This is where the film fails, because they're not actors.  Giving them a script full of lines to recite just means we're watching scene after scene of flat line readings, at best.  At worst, there's some rather painful banter.

Further, nothing the team does or says advances the plot on its own.  The story is driven forward through expository scenes between other characters played by real actors.  The pattern of the film essentially develops into "Action sequence, receive intel, deploy team, action sequence."  The SEALs, as they are in real life, are a tool.  The "real characters" of the film use them to propel the story forward, but in this sense even though they are our main characters, they are essentially passive in the story.  They just get their orders, and do what they have to, and then later they get more orders.

And this is ultimately the problem with the movie: it's just not very interesting when not looking at it on a technical level.  And on that level, it is impressive.  The action sequences are thrilling and well-made, with some intriguing camera choices.  The photographers apparently mounted cameras on the SEALs' helmets, so all the action sequences in the film are interspersed with first-person POV shots that lend the film an immediacy... and also a feeling of video-game-ness.  If ever there was a movie for "Call of Duty" fans, it's this one.

There's not much more to say about "Act of Valor."  It's entertaining enough because of its action, but pretty much everything else is a wash.