Movie review: “Act of Valor” lacks depth despite the film’s action hype

By Steven Zoeller

Movie review: “Act of Valor” lacks depth despite the film’s action hype

Today, the highly-touted “Act of Valor” opens in theaters. The hype is due to its stars, active-duty U.S. Navy SEALs. If you were planning on seeing this movie, let me spare you the experience of sitting through a thoroughly mediocre film.

Much like its title, “Act of Valor” is generic and dull. For all its weaponized bombast and patriotic swagger, it’s really nothing more than military propaganda. There are lots of loud guns and dead terrorists, but barely anything in terms of creativity, emotion or character development.

The film’s plot is very straightforward: A platoon of Navy SEALs is dispatched to rescue a captured CIA operative who has intel concerning a fugitive terrorist. They rescue her and then go after said terrorist. And that’s pretty much it.

It’s a simplistic setup, so you’d think that would give the writers plenty of room to develop and grow the characters. But you’d be wrong. Out of the multiple protagonists, the audience only really gets to know one — and he’s awfully boring. The movie ends before establishing an emotional connection with any of the SEALs.

Okay, I know some readers are rolling their eyes now. Why am I criticizing a ‘shoot ‘em up’ film for lacking emotionally compelling characters? Don’t I understand the point of these films is just to watch people blow each other up?

No, I get that. But no matter how flashy, action sequences are only intense when there’s something on the line. In “Valor,” I didn’t feel like anything was really at stake because I didn’t care enough about who was getting shot. In this way, the lack of character depth undermined the meat of the film. All I knew was that one side was American and the other was anti-American. You can’t expect the audience to empathize with one side just because they’re the same nationality.

Fair enough, you might say, but isn’t the action itself good?

I tentatively agree this film has some decent action sequences, even if I can’t bring myself to care much about the characters. I was happy to see no over-the-top stunts in this movie — it was fairly realistic. That said, the film bears so many war movie clichés that this realism is difficult to appreciate.

In addition to featuring unnecessary slow-mo and stylized zooms, the movie includes original imagery such as an aircraft carrier at sunset, a wife crying at the door as her husband goes off to fight, and a soldier writing a letter to his dead comrade’s son. Because we don’t know the characters, none of this is touching or dramatic — it’s Michael Bay stock footage and it sucks.

I haven’t even mentioned the two most puzzling aspects of this film: the inexplicable head-up display that pops up whenever a new character is introduced and the occasional first-person mode during battle sequences. Both of these camera tricks are completely inappropriate. They do nothing for the film except make it look like a video game, which undercuts any realism.

Students who missed the Meacham Auditorium premiere don’t have any more reason to see “Act of Valor” in theatres than those who didn’t. It’s not worth the money or the time, unless perhaps you’re positively obsessed with the SEALs. But even then, this film might only underwhelm you.

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