Attention reader! The Act of Valour review is here for your viewing pleasure. But will the movie pass out first class or get a dishonorable discharge?
Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh’s film uses real life US Navy SEALs in a bid to keep things as authentic as possible. Whilst that’s certainly an admirable goal, it means that as an entertainment experience the film is a mixed bag.
The combat movement and jargon of the SEALs is all present and correct, as we would expect given the professionals involved. There is no doubt that this enhances both the authenticity of the experience, and the enjoyment the military curious viewer will get from the film.
The other side of that coin are the non-action dialogue scenes where the SEALs seem noticeably less at ease, which is understandable given that they are not professional actors. As soon as you place a camera in front of most people who haven’t acted before, they try to be natural but come over as forced and uncomfortable, which is exactly what happens here.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around the dealings of an arms smuggler called Christos and his cronies. We know they are bad men because they blow up an ice cream truck when a US politician and his son stop by for a scoop. If you are looking for subtlety then I suggest you go elsewhere. However since the plot is here to drive the action (of which there is quite a lot), it deserves a mention.
A CIA agent that’s onto Christo’s activities is kidnapped so it’s time to send the boys in, which is lucky enough since it’s been 15 minutes into the film without any action. One more forced, stilted scene of banter between the SEALs and I’d have had to go on my own recon mission to secure my TV remote and turn it off.
One of the SEALs is a dad-to-be, a point that’s hammered home with thumping regularity, even discussing nappy changing before a parachute jump. However once the mission begins and the lead starts flying it’s a different story. The camerawork is bold (even a few first person shooter style POV shots) and the editing is dynamic without loosing track of events. The interest lies in watching the Seals work as a team rather than seeing the inter-squad relations play out.
For example, we see how recon drones are used to pinpoint enemy locations and how SEALs coordinate an underwater approach towards an enemy base. US hardware is really what’s on display here and it’s mightily impressive. From a Blackbird spy plane to a submarine, this film has all the toys out of the box. These are all sort of linked by a computer graphics style, pointing out mission locale details and giving us background info on the SEALs.
Musically the cues come from the standard boxes marked ‘Action’, ‘Drama’ and ‘Thriller’, doing their job in a workmanlike way. The only real negative is the inclusion of some bizarre spiritual pan pipe stuff during some of the seals downtime scenes before the mission. This brought to mind in me those cheesy Kung-Fu flicks form 1970’s Hong Kong cinema. Most odd.
Strangely for a film employing real Seals in order to achieve authenticity, the camera has been lensed to give a glossy, pin sharp quality. Even with the occasional shaky-cam moment, you don’t really feel you are actually there as the SEALs they go about their business. You feel like an observer, peeking in.
The films best and most ludicrous scene is the interrogation aboard Christo’s boat. The US Navy steam in with such overwhelming force the whole thing looks like some kind of weird boat regatta. Albeit one with guns. Lots of guns. But aboard the boat things improve, with Christo’s being deftly co-opted by his interrogator. This scene clinches the (joint) best acting prize by a mile for the dialogue between the two men.
However a SEALs work is never done and so, on intel from this very interrogation they set out on another mission. And without wanting to give anything away, a very bad thing happens during this mission. However unless you are incredibly young and naïve in the ways of the world or have never seen even 5 minutes of a war movie, you will see it coming. A mile off.
Still I cannot deny this scene had an emotional kick and resonance at the end of the film that rises above the rest of the material. The quality of the moviemaking shines through in the final action scene and showcases the tense emotion of combat.
The film opens with mentions of Faulkner and Churchill. I wonder if they realised how apt the choice of Churchill really is. Like him, this film doggedly sticks to it’s point of view, is full of the spirit of resilience and uses all tools at it’s disposal to engage the viewer. Also like Churchill, it is in danger of being one dimensional in it’s outlook, of not moving with the times and confusing bombast and bluster with logic.
Which is all a rather highfalutin way of saying that if you’re an action movie nut, this will be above average. If you’re a military hardware fan, you can add another two points to my score, which is coming up below, in just a few lines. Really, honestly, it is.
But hey, I’m just following the movie’s lead. It’s a loud action movie trying to get some cred by dropping Churchill’s name. I’m a loudmouth reviewer doing the same.
The interviews with active service SEALs are a quality, half hour of insight into the pressures of life on and off duty that these men face. By far the best extra, this is much better than the usual soundbites you get from cast and crew on most bonus material. Together with a directors’ commentary, making of and weapons docs, this rounds out a strong bonus material content on the DVD.
Don’t forget to enter out competition where you can win one of three copies of Act of Valour on Blu-Ray.
Act of Valour is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 16 July. You can order it now from our online store.