Many a film hits the ground running, but few do it after a HALO — High Altitude, Low Opening — jump executed by active-duty Navy SEALs. Not lacking in intensity or authenticity, Act of Valor still misses the mark with flat characters and a pace that drags at times.
Centering on SEALs Mike and Rorke, the tale is narrated via a condolence letter to the unborn child of a fallen comrade. It starts out with the kidnapping of a CIA agent assigned to collect info on Christo, the industrial-strength scumbag who comes off as a hipster bin Laden. The members of SEAL Team Seven are tasked with her rescue and happen upon Christo’s connection to Abu Shabal, a terrorist looking to infiltrate the U.S. with some particularly nasty weapons.
This contemporary military movie offers dizzying cinematography and sharp production value. The jungle rescue is done particularly well, with thousand-yard stares all around. The action is tight, with some incredible POV-style shots and terrorist heads surgically-sniped like overripe melons, but if flashing lights and loud noises were the basis for great filmmaking, DOOM would have swept the Academy Awards.
The casting of real SEAL operators intrigues, but this fresh formula is also why it falls flat. The characters are written with little depth, assuming to compensate for the fact that the roles are filled by soldiers, not actors — there’s a reason these guys are trained to kill. While a film based on actual missions is pretty cool, as are the live-fire scenes, the lack of development kills any chance of making this much more than a 100-minute long recruiting video. Halfway through, you find yourself wishing for Michael Biehn and the shower room scene from The Rock.
Act of Valor is a movie you want to like, acted by men who are to be commended for their real-life heroism. It’s not a complete waste of time; give it a shot if you’re in the mood for a shot of adrenaline — just don’t expect anything more.