Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
February 23, 2012
* (out of four)
“Act of Valor” began as a small recruiting film. Five years and a script from one of the writers of “300” later, that's still all it is.
I definitely don’t understand how the Navy thought the best way to showcase its members’ bravery was to let active duty SEALs film a fictional, non-documentary story that makes real war look like a generic action flick. That is, if generic action movies featured real-life Navy soldiers doing a stiff job of playing themselves—with supporting turns by Nestor Serrano (recognizable from practically every TV show ever, including “Law and Order” and “24”) and the woman who played “Clarise, Island Girl” in the Kurt Russell comedy “Captain Ron.” Sayonara, realism.
“Based on real acts of valor,” “Valor” focuses on SEALs as they seek to rescue a CIA agent and thwart a terrorist operation. This provides numerous opportunities for them to leap out of planes and make canned statements like, “This thing is way bigger than we thought it was.” These soldiers deserve all the respect in the world, not slow-motion explosions and dialogue more likely to inspire groan-laughs than admiration. (Highlight: “He pulled a Roman Polanski on my ass and disappeared.”)
Why not just let filmmakers immerse themselves into everyday operations and capture the courage and uncertainty as it happens, like the Oscar-nominated doc “Restrepo”? Or let a more talented writer and director (and real actors) bottle heroism and fear and urgency, a la “The Hurt Locker”?
No, the offensively artificial “Act of Valor,” the rare movie whose making-of documentary would be more interesting than the movie itself, leaves no room for mistakes or a sense of clarity and truth. Instead, it’s barely drawn characters and action sequences, such as when a soldier catches a dead terrorist as he falls into the water so the splash won’t alert other enemies. Eat your heart out, Van Damme.
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