Dave White
Act of Valor Review

Dave's Rating:


Mission very nearly almost accomplished.

Part experimental film, part recruitment advertisement, part whatever-the-opposite-of-those-Charlie-Sheen-and-Demi-Moore-movies-were, you've not seen anything quite like this before. And by now you probably know the set-up: real Navy SEALS, taking a temporary leave from their duties, turn to acting for a one-shot chance to convey the reality of the intense nature of their job and tell a story based on similar SEAL Team missions. Everything but the dialogue gets out alive.

And it's a lot of dialogue, more than these non-pros can deliver convincingly, even though all of it is, apparently, based on their lives. The flat mumbling of extremely strong emotions revolving around brotherhood, honor, codes and duty drains the weight and importance out of all of it. And that's why sometimes you need Charlie Sheen to play a Navy SEAL, to convey the feelings when the action dies down from time to time. Okay, wrong, no you don't need Charlie Sheen, you need someone much, much better, but you get me. It's why they hire professional actors even when the SEAL details get fudged.

And there you go. My one beef. Bad acting. And it was a gravely sincere try, but that part doesn't fly.

Here's what works, though: everything else. There's an unseen character here and it's the camera that gets into all the impossible places and makes sure you have no choice but to understand that this is all extremely dangerous and that YOU. ARE. THERE. Not in a Restrepo way, mind you, because that's an actual scorchingly great documentary about the Afghanistan war from a grunt-level-infantry-eye-view and it's also the kind of movie that will fill you with despair. You don't want despair. You want winning. You want "America eff-YEAH!" And you want things to blow up and you want evildoers terminated with extreme prejudice. You want it to feel like the best Chuck Norris movie of 1983, only without the irritation of actual Chuck Norris.

It's weird, too, because the terrible narration and stiff acting never stops and the words "brother" and "honor" and "valor" are used so much you'd get drunk in 15 minutes if you made a game out of it, so you figure that the film can't possibly overcome that. But then it does. As the real SEALs eliminate fictional jihadists, the movie grows on you and turns your smugness about how you can spot amateur dialogue-reading into reverence over what badasses these guys are and how much you are in their debt. Because they might not be able to act their way out of a wet paper bag but they can kill entire training camps full of people planning the next 9/11 with their bare hands and, if the bare hands get machete'd off, with rocket launchers they've been trained to fire with their elbows as a last resort. You sit in awe at the stoic, routine way they decimate everything in their path and you realize that you'll never be even as tough as their weakest team member and all you can do is say, "Thanks for killing terrorists, you guys. Semper Fi."

And then you remember that that's what the Marines say and you feel like an even bigger tool.


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