Act of Valor is an offensive movie. But not for the reason you think. As a guy who has dutifully answered his annual Calls of Duty, I can dig on Act of Valor’s fetishistic loving lingering shots of men and their hardware. A submarine slipping sleekly underwater, or those adroitly scudding riverboats, or a wordless nighttime jungle creep, or the calculated way heavily armed men communicate by gently squeezing each other on the shoulder. Some of the procedural stuff is fascinating up until it gives way to its inner Michael Bay and breaks out into satisfyingly R-rated firefights. I could do without the blatant pandering to the videogame sensibility of it all with pointless FPS POV shots. Like I said, I’ve already answered to my Calls of Duty.
After the jump, so what’s the big deal?
I don’t even mind that the human element in Act of Valor is absolutely horrid, especially when the movie plays at Thin Red Line. Good lord, that voiceover! The only time the dialogue and performances aren’t mind numbingly bad is during an interrogation scene in which the commander dude (obviously not an actor) appeals to the terrorist mastermind dude (obviously an actor). The actor in the scene, Alex Veadov, is doing his utmost to work with the non-actor. It’s a well written scene and it’s like watching an athlete patiently try to teach a child how to swing a bat.
When Act of Valor proclaims it’s not using actors, it isn’t kidding. The uncredited active duty servicemen who stand in for actors are as square jawed and flat as you’d expect, real-world warriors first and movie actors a distant distant second. Is that a glint of personality in that man’s eyes or was it just a trick of the lighting? Ah, it was just the lighting. This movie is nothing if not gorgeously shot and lit. What a showcase for your Blu Ray player!
But then comes what I call the Raid The Redemption question: how far can you get in an action movie without characters? The scene when someone throws himself on a grenade is unintentionally hilarious, partly because the movie has previously represented grenades as massively incendiary devices laying waste to entire buildings. Poof, goes this grenade, rather politely. This guy who has nobly sacrified himself pops about a foot off the ground, as if he was jumping on the bed on his tummy. Whichever guy it is. You have no idea. So, which guy just died? Act of Valor doesn’t really care about questions like that. It’s just a lot of white people shooting a lot of brown people.
But it all leads up to to an oddly offensive conclusion. Act of Valor winds down with a long turgid reverent sequence, the jingoistic equivalent of hobbits jumping on beds. And then comes a title card dedicating its turgid reverence to the “Special Forces warriors who have died since 9/11”. 9/11 had nothing to do with the military, much less the Special Forces. The movie might as well have dedicated itself to the Special Forces warriors who have died since Katrina, or since Alaska senator Ted Williams’ plane went down, or since Proposition 8 was passed, or since that guy from American Idol had kidney surgery. Hot milporn action is one thing. Offensively jingoistic pap is something else entirely and it’s a terrible way to wrap up otherwise passable hot milporn action.
Act of Valor is available now on VOD, DVD, and Blu Ray.