Reel SEALs don’t feel real

Act of Valor

on February 24, 2012 by Mark Olsen

actofvalorreview.pngThe main selling point of Act of Valor is that it's a military action picture starring actual Navy SEALs. Filmmakers Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh initially set out to make Navy-approved recruitment videos and they transformed their effort into this feature film, which shows remarkable access to military materials and personnel but, as a film, is unremarkable every other way. The producers' access may have helped production valuesan aircraft carrier here, a nuclear submarine therebut it doesn't improve the storytelling. Box office should be strong given the film's wide opening, extensive marketing and cross promotions (everything but McDonalds' Happy Meals namedrop the film) but once the weakness of the story is clear all that's left are "real maneuvers" and people don't buy tickets to watch movies they could see in recruitment centers for free.

A group of Navy SEALsthe elite fighting force much in the news following the killing of Osama Bin Ladenare deployed overseas from their home base in San Diego to rescue a American agent captured by drug lords. Information recovered from the mission puts the team on the trail of international terrorists determined to strike within the United States.

The movie is an odd and interesting experiment. If you walk in knowing nothing of its origins/production story, it just seems like a throwbacky B-movie action junker. However, if you're aware it was made with actual soldiers it becomes a fictionalized documentary of self-perception, a glorified version of the military's best-case-scenario image of itself.

But Act of Valor is not a documentary and is still intended to be a proper narrative feature. (It's standing as a recruitment film may be a matter for debate.) It may come as little surprise that the active duty Navy SEALs who star in the film are terrible actors. Every time the action pauses for a scene of brother-to-brother camaraderie or a heart-tugging evocation of family life back home, the film completely deadstops.

The filmmakers have made it known that they shot action scenes in which the SEALs were firing off live rounds of ammunition. As in actual bullets. This may theoretically provide a certain air of authenticity but serves no actual, discernible purpose. You know what the scenes with live rounds look like? A shoot-out in a movie. And the vagaries of this productiona reliance on first-person point-of-view, sometimes shooting with small DSLR cameraslikely influence the movie's tone and overall sense of energy as much as perceived realness of the SEALS and their live bullets. McCoy, Waugh and whoever else is responsible had to realize at some point that making something feel real in a movie has nuts to do with live ammo or real SEALs.

The film then becomes something of an inadvertent investigation into the importance and meaning of authenticity. There's a reason the most memorable characters are the villains (played by actors Alex Veadov and Jason Cottle), childhood friends who have gone down different paths, one now a businessman with luxury tastes and the other an idealistic zealot.

Taken as a film, Act of Valor is something like an updated version of the 80s Cannon-style action picture: grubby and aching to get back to the guns. The essential packaging conceptReal Soldiers! is a curiosity, not an actual added value.

Distributor: Relativity Media
Cast: Roselyn Sanchez, Jason Cottle, Alex Veadov, Nestor Serrano, Emilio Rivera
Director/Producers: Scott Waugh, Mouse McCoy
Screenwriter: Kurt Johnstad
Genre: Action/Adventure
Rating: R for strong violence, including some torture, and for language
Running Time: 101 min.
Release Date: February 24, 2012


Tags: Roselyn Sanchez, Jason Cottle, Alex Veadov, Nestor Serrano, Emilio Rivera, Scott Waugh, Mouse McCoy, Kurt Johnstad

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  • Elguapo on 28 February 2012

    My perspective on the review was based on my two tours of duty in Vietnam with the Marine Corps in 1969-70.

    Based on the comments in Olsen's review, it is obvious that he has no military experience. As such, his review is nothing more than a literary exercise in anti-military rhetoric which is the real message of his review.

    Olsen's disdain for our military is crystal clear in his comments like,

    "if you're aware it was made with actual soldiers it becomes a fictionalized documentary of self-perception," or

    "a glorified version of the military's best-case-scenario image of itself " and,

    " Every time the action pauses for a scene of brother-to-brother camaraderie or a heart-tugging evocation of family life back home, the film completely dead stops."

    And don't forget the comment, "the film then becomes something of an inadvertent investigation into the importance and meaning of authenticity;"

    In my (humble) opinion, to appreciate this movie required the understanding military terms but everything else depicted was very believable (based on my experience). Unfortunately, some people may a have a difficult time understanding the military language and phrases used in this movie and this is where I see where it might not be as much attention as it deserves.

    In his review, Mr. Olsen totally missed the most important message of this movie which is the sacrifice that the men, women, their families and children of our military forces make day in and day out so that people like Olsen can exercise their 1sts Amendment Rights and regurgitate his anti-military rhetoric on those who serve (and have served) our country.

    Yes, Mr. Olsen, you have been guaranteed the your right to "free speech" by those in your review that you speak so negatively about. I would ask that be a bit more sensitive to those who have actually served our country in war and are fighting to preserve the 1st amendment right that you abuse in your review.

    Further, stay away from making political statements that you think are hidden in your reviews as it cheapens you and ignores the sacrifices of our military men, women, and their families, of which is obvious, you know nothing about. Out...

    • OnCoreB on 06 April 2012

      I registered just so I could get on here and tell you what a jack ass you made of yourself. The reviewer's message was not a, "literary exercise in anti-military rhetoric," as you claim without the use of any logic whatsoever. If you didn't have such an incredibly biased opinion as to what makes this movie either good or bad, you would have seen that his points were not negative towards the U.S. military AT ALL!!! Most of his negative comments were towards the IDEA of including real soldiers (with no acting experience) in a narrative film. He simply argues that the realism added by the use of real ammo and soldiers in the movie does not add enough to the film to save it from it's bad acting.

      This has nothing to do with any political has to do with the fact that the SEALS that starred in this movie can't act. Lead to a shitty movie that you enjoyed solely because you were in the services for a year and understood the things such as terminology the movie failed to explain itself.

      You argued that the depiction of events in the movie were wrongfully called "a glorified version of the military"...when in fact that contradicts the very meaning of the word glorified. The events we saw in Act of Valor were not real. They were based on actual events that were then glorified for the sake of entertaining a casual audience.

      As I further prove you to be an ignorant and salty human being, I would like to also add that this movie was marketed towards EVERYONE in the US. Olsen was right when he spoke of the ridiculous advertising for this movie. If your average american is your target audience, and much of the enjoyment depends on military experience...well, i'd say u got a pretty messed up marketing strategy.

      I'm not going to tell you how badly you 'abused' your right to free speech, because quite frankly it's no one's place. We all have opinions and mine is no better than yours. I don't understand your perspective as I have no military experience either. But there are plenty of movies that I've seen as I'm sure Olsen has also. That is a shitty movie.

      Oh and if ANYTHING, the fact that this film even exists is a political statement towards americans to continue support for a war that is not very widely supported. It screams, "support our troops", and was supported (and I heard somewhere it was actually FUNDED) by the US government.

  • NativeWNC on 03 March 2012

    As a Father of teen children, friends who have served in several conflicts, and seeing the film here is my oppinion. All parents raise or should say educate and discuss differently with their children so age wise it really varies but I would say 10+. While this film does contain violence and some language I have watched far worse on regular television and heard much worse such as our Lords name used in vane on USA Network. Teenagers video games, you know the ones they turn off when a parent walks in... have much worse graphics. Some have criticized the actors not being real good actors as well. The creators were very upfront prior to release that this was not intended to be a movie to begin with but more of a recruitment tool for the Seals. For not being high paid actors free to complain, get drunk and walk the red carpet they did an awesome job. It was a little confusing to follow the story line. These men showed true professionalism, patriotism, and respect. I would say if you view this with the knowledge of its intent and also understanding these are not actors most will love it. As for kids trust me they see and hear much worse watching most television shows. Teens can really have a greater appreciation of our freedom and the sacrifices made to have what we do if a parent takes a few minutes to talk with them. The one scene where a Seal threw himself on a grenade is an example. Why did he do that? He knew that if it went off all of them would perish including him. He gave his life knowing how important the mission was, his team still had a chance to prevent far worse actions, and if nothing else what most would hope for in our soldiers. There was blood at times but even then was not a dramatization or focul point. Cameras didnt zoom in making it the main issue. There was not blood and guts flying, I never heard the GD word. As a parent if your unsure view yourself first because it is diffenately a movie I could watch several times.

What do you think?