Act of Valor Review
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Right after the credits rolled on the new Blu-ray edition of Act of Valor, I swapped the disc out for one of the more recent entries in the Call of Duty video game franchise. The transition was nearly seamless. Thatís not too surprising, as both were made with the close participation of the United States military, and both lean heavily on getting the details right and successfully conveying the frantic action of a firefight. But where a gameís interactive experience lets it skimp on narrative and character development without diminishing the experience, a film needs to engage viewers in subtler ways. And while Act of Valor makes a valiant effort, thatís where it comes up short.

Of course, much of the interest in this film stems from the casting of real-life Navy SEAL operators as the leads, while professional actors round out the supporting players and villains. That real world military expertise comes through in a general sense of toughness and ease with the abbreviated lingo, techno-speak, and inside jokes, but it also hampers their ability to portray rounded characters. Itís probably for the best that, once the film slogs through the introductory 20 minutes and a generally unimpressive voice-over, it doesnít require them to.

Thereís a bare-bones plot about Chechen terrorists and undetectable suicide bomb vests, but thatís really just a hook on which to hang as many sneak-ins and shoot-outs in varying locations as possible. The action in Act of Valor really is laid out like an FPS (first-person shooter) video game. Thereís a jungle mission, an ocean mission, an urban mission, and so on. Furthering the comparison, the action sequences frequently feature first-person point-of-view shots. Fifteen years ago, such an approach might have been disorienting. Now it just had me wondering who has the controller.

There were several times during the movie when I really wanted that controller. Despite the occasional unneeded camera flourish, the action is tightly orchestrated, brisk, and convincingly portrayed. As good as cinema make-believe is, thereís an edge to the action here, owed directly to trained individuals using real military hardware. Given that, I think they could have gone a little deeper with the extra features, which include deleted scenes, some brief making-of spots, and short interviews with some of the filmís SEALS. These are interesting guys, and I can see why the filmmakers were so adamant about putting them in the movie.

Thatís why itís a shame that the story built around them just isnít there. Itís the area where the filmís similarity to modern video games most harms it. Plot developments are blatant (see how long it takes you to guess which guy isnít coming back), and the emotional sentiment is far too clichťd and overwrought, even for the professional actors in the cast.

Act of Valor showcases some of the best military action Iíve seen in a long timeóand, unfortunately, it reinforces that just doing that well isnít enough. Far too often, itís like watching a friend play Call of Duty. Some of the action is undeniably cool, but youíre not all that invested in whatís going on. Mostly, youíre just waiting for your turn to play.

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