"Act of Valor" is Actually TOO Authentic, Yet Not Real Enough

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by Christopher Campbell
February 23, 2012 3:26 PM
8 Comments
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After "Act of Valor," we can no longer complain about inaccuracies and inauthentic material in action movies. This relatively fictional and dramatized look at the work of a U.S. Navy SEAL team is unquestionably the most realistic portrayal of the special ops branch in a "narrative" motion picture, and having employed actual active duty SEALs in the lead roles of the main characters, that's obviously the intention of stuntment-turned-filmmakers Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh. But action movies aren't really meant to be realistic, and this one just proves why authenticity isn't necessarily a positive thing when it comes to entertainment. 


This is something understood by another actual (retired) Navy SEAL, who I had the chance to interview recently regarding cinematic depictions of his community over the years. "It may turn out to be a very good movie," he told me of his high expectations for "Valor," "Whether it’s something that the public will think is a good movie, I don’t know." He believes at least the SEALs will appreciate it, if only because it's a rare instance of Hollywood not doing a disservice to this misunderstood section of the military, however they're a very small audience to cater to.

As for the general public, they should be able to get over the wooden acting, which honestly isn't any worse than many genuine action movie stars, and some of the convincing set pieces (an early extraction sequence involving Navy SWCCs in particular) are as spectacular as any in a major summer blockbuster. But the simple terrorism plot employed to string together these action scenes feels forced and yet also lacking in the kind of imagination we expect from the movies.

Part of me wants to classify "Act of Valor" as a documentary, albeit one consisting completely of "reenactment" material. Thinking about the broad scope of documentary qualifications, it's not too different from hybrids like Lionel Rogosin' "On the Bowery" (which hit DVD and Blu-ray this week), which employ real life subjects and are set against genuine backdrops but involve technically fictional stories, based in truth to an extent, in order to dramatically engage viewers and introduce them to a world that's both veritable and relatable.


Yet most people today wouldn't qualify this as a doc, so it's possibly relegated to the opposite of a hybrid, falling somewhere outside both documentary and narrative film as a kind of failure of cinema altogether. It's not so much a film as an attempt to sell a feature length SEAL recruitment ad as a "film product" (equivalent to fake, processed goods like "cheese product" or "wine product"). It may not be a disservice to the soldiers but it's a disservice to moviegoers.

Still, I think it could have been passable entertainment if only it had been directed more clearly and competently. The extreme close-up framing employed for so much of "Valor" is unacceptable for many reasons, but mostly for the way it goes against the very intent of the picture. How are we to appreciate authenticity if we don't get a good look at it? For the same reasons you don't crop or edit too much with real dancing talent in musicals, you want to show as wide an angle on legitimate stunt work and action as possible (see "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" and probably "Haywire," which I haven't yet).

Given my experience watching true documentaries, I accept that a drawback to filming realistic material in real time is that you don't always get the most controlled camera work, let alone the widest coverage possible. I also think it is probably with some purpose that a lot of "Valor" looks like a first-person video, with all the narrow and messy vantages that aesthetic allows. The plot itself is very much like a game, each big action sequence correlating to the end of a level on the way to finishing the total objective. Each of these sequences indeed ends consistentlywith expository dialogue explaining that "the mission is not over yet."


Unfortunately, possibly an effect of authenticity, the final battle isn't really as climactic as you'd expect from either an action movie or a video game. In a major way, the mission to figure out how to produce a genuinely accurate action movie isn't over yet, either, nor is the goal of bringing back the concept of exciting adventure-based documentaries (see my Movies.com column on "Doc-Busters" from last year). Looks like we still have a few levels to go on both ends.



"Act of Valor" opens this Friday in wide release.

Recommended If You Like: "Navy SEALs"; neo-realism; the miltary recruitment ads that play before the movie in some cinemas

Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter: @thefilmcynic
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8 Comments

  • Greg | April 24, 2013 12:23 AMReply

    Shut the hell up Gary. Act of Valor sucks and you know it.

  • Gary | January 17, 2013 12:00 AMReply

    Reno if your talking shit on this great movie you suck as well. I appreciate your service for this country but your not a marine so don't get all salty and talk shit because you sound like as much of a dick as the little bitch writing this review.

  • Gary | January 16, 2013 11:55 PMReply

    Again I would just like to stress that YOUR A FUCK! Quite writing movie reviews and find something else to do because your not qualified for this... Maybe giving McDonalds a try?

  • Gary | January 16, 2013 11:52 PMReply

    Your a fuck... This was a great movie which many movie goers enjoyed... I went and saw it twice in theaters because it was so good. On top of that anybody I know who actually gave it a chance loves it as we'll. You disgrace this legitimate attempt to bring realism to the action movie scene which has become to fake an unbelievable. You should be ashamed of yourself and how you have any legitimacy as a movie critic ill never understand. Props to both the directors and the real live SEALS cast in this movie. We need more men like them and less like you. To anybody who doubted this movie based on this review (If you can even call I that) go see it for yourself and I'm sure you'll disagree. ACT OF VALOR KILLED IT!

  • yourmomsnewgf | June 21, 2012 1:47 PMReply

    your blog sucks a lot!!!...:P:P:P

  • Scott Harrigan | April 25, 2012 2:19 AMReply

    This seems like the type of movie one would be accused of hating America for critically panning. In terms of pure military fun and patriotism, it looks like a great film. Anyone who takes this as how America really is all the time is just being silly. It has all the making of an intense military thrill ride. This film is sort of a "what you see is what you get" scenario, and it does look awesome.

    http://www.videodetective.com/movies/act-of-valor/291040

  • asimgul | April 18, 2012 12:55 PMReply

    best flim

  • Reno | February 25, 2012 9:00 AMReply

    There are only a few military-based movies I consider worth watching from begining to end. Among those are Apocolypse Now and The Boys of Company C; both are pure entertainment and as close to portraying the insane world of the US Army as you can get. This movie looks to be one of those that gives the impression the US military is always on mission and there's valor everywhere when you're in uniform.

    After two decades of active Army I can say I value the Army for what it can accomplish in terms of self-actualization and projecting the US's image, but now can't bring myself to seperate from reality enough to watch a movie as unrelated to actual military life as this. Impressions matter when you're considering a career in the military, and the youth this movie plays to deserve better than this glossy recruiting move.

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