Act of Valor tries so hard to be authentic. From a cast made up of real Navy SEALs, to dialogue filled with military jargon, to a plot centered around the war on terror, the film wants us to believe that what we're seeing truly represents soldier life. In this desperate effort, though, it unfortunately does just the opposite. Focusing so closely on the validity of details, the filmmakers forget almost every valuable component of cinema—like, say, a story, which in the end makes it play more like an ad for the Navy than an actual movie.

Directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh and written by Kurt Johnstad, Act of Valor follows a squad of Navy SEALs as they go on a mission to rescue a CIA agent and stop a group of terrorists from bombing the U.S. In terms of a story, this plot is the extent of it. A voiceover briefly introduces the characters as they prepare to leave their families, but that's it. After ten minutes of contrived goodbyes and trite lines about men and war, the mission begins, and the action follows.

A SEAL on a mission

A SEAL on a mission

But the film never shows or tells us who these men are and what they think and feel. Are they afraid? Do they feel sympathy for the enemy? Do the killing and death affect them? Questions like these never emerge, but why would they when the film clearly imposes a pro-military, pro-war agenda, asking us to accept its subject as a mere noble and necessary part of life without moral and social implications.

In this, Act of Valor confirms itself to be a sort of military propaganda that depicts U.S. soldiers as pure, selfless, and righteous heroes whom American citizens dare not question or disrespect. Like most propaganda—if not all—the film hardly passes as art. But even if it had a genuine story and complex characters, a whole slew of other flaws would still make it substantially hackneyed.

Preparing for battle

Preparing for battle

These flaws become apparent in the opening sequence, in which the two main characters talk over beers at a local diner. The hokey scene, which presumably (but poorly) establishes their friendship, epitomizes two of the film's most prevalent shortcomings: cliched dialogue and horrendous acting.

In an effort to be more authentic, real Navy SEALs were cast as the leads—a decision proves dismal. When these macho men try to do drama with one another and their fictional spouses and families, it results in unintended laughter. They appear as if they are reading their lines as they go. The saddest part is that the film—so focused on its action and military facts—doesn't ask too much of them. But even then, they still fall short of the challenge, unable to even create characters whose names we remember.

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The film often looks like a video game

The film often looks like a video game

The lines they're given don't help one bit. Johnstad's shoddy script includes cliché after cliché. The narrator, whose voice sounds as ridiculously deep as Christian Bale's Batman, delivers the most trite, unimaginative dialogue. His alleged nuggets of insight—like the opening quote of "When you get old, people stop thinking you're dangerous"—all prove banal.

The worst of the dialogue comes in the conversations between the SEALs. While probably realistic to some degree, they call each other "dude," "bro," "brother," and "asshole," all while literally slapping each other on the butt. Even more, in the midst of all the death and violence, the SEALs yell out the tritest one-liners, like when one shouts, "This could be big trouble in little China!"

To be fair, Act of Valor cares little about anything besides its action sequences, which make up most of the film. Just one problem: McCoy and Waugh don't know how to shoot an action sequence. Using a chaotic, incomprehensible style, the directors put us right in the middle of the action; they try to capture tone visually, but it merely causes the action to be confusing. The shaky cams and behind-the-gun first-person perspectives make the film look more like a video game or commercial than a movie—which pretty much sums up Act of Valor as a whole.

Void of all pivotal parts of a narrative motion picture—a story with real actors and believable characters, for example—the film, like a TV ad or propaganda film, essentially tries to sell us a product, an idea, a message, one that equates war and American soldiers with righteousness and virtue. But with such a shoddy vehicle for that message, including the cluttered action that attempts to mask it, no one will buy it.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Do you believe Act of Valor handles the subjects of war and violence appropriately and sensitively? Why? Why not? What could it have done better?
  2. The film approaches war as a good and necessary part of life. Is this true? If so, why?
  3. What does the Bible say about war? Is war ever okay? Should Christians practice non-violence or be pacifists? What is the proper Christian response to war? (For further thoughts on Christians and war, check out these stories from Christianity Today.)

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Act of Valor is rated R for strong violence including some torture, and for language. Action sequences fill the movie. Many people are shot and killed, including children, terrorists, and SEALs. Blood is minimal. In one scene, a terrorist briefly tortures a female spy. It includes physical violence, but nothing too graphic. The Navy SEALs use profanity throughout the film, mainly variations of words such as "ass" and "damn."

Act of Valor
Our Rating
½ Stars - Poor
Average Rating
(34 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (for strong violence including some torture, and for language)
Directed By
Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh
Run Time
1 hour 50 minutes
Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez, Nestor Serrano
Theatre Release
February 24, 2012 by Relativity Media
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