Acting, it turns out, is harder than it looks. The experiment from co-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh to cast real Navy SEALs instead of actors for the lead roles in Act of Valor produces mixed results and probably shouldn’t be repeated any time soon.
Act of Valor isn’t an awful film but it feels oddly put together. At times it films like a documentary, a pseudo-documentary, an action flick, and a hamfisted USA Armed Forces recruitment film. Despite giving us a group of impressive action sequences these pieces don’t fit together well.
It’s hard to blame the SEALs, who were chosen to showcase what the real soldiers can do in combat situations, when they are given such uneven writing to work with. It’s true, that with the possible exception of the oldest member of the team, the group certainly aren’t natural actors, but Kurt Johnstad‘s script doesn’t do them any favors with its share of awkward dialogue.
The film casts the real soldiers as a squad ordered to go in and rescue an undercover CIA operative (Roselyn Sanchez) who has been taken hostage by a drug and arms smuggler (Alex Veadov) with ties to a terrorist who is planning multiple suicide bombings inside the United States.
When the film drops the pretense of plot and just allows the SEALs to act naturally in coordinated combat situations Act of Valor is impressive. Which makes it all the more maddening when it struggles to insert bromatic moments between the men, or the story of one soldier and his pregnant wife (Ailsa Marshall) back home, that make the acting in The Expendables look Oscar worthy.
There’s certainly a built-in audience for this type of film and the idea of casting real soldiers certainly the film some notoriety, but had the filmmakers cast actors in the two main roles on the SEAL team and allowed SEALs to stand-in for them in the action scenes the film would feel a hell of a lot more cohesive and professional.
Some of these issues could have been mitigated had the film been shot and edited to not ask the soldiers to carry so much of the acting duties. It doesn’t help that the filmmakers are also wearing their hearts on the sleeve through most of the film and giving us some pretty hamfisted storytelling (including far-too-prolonged lingering shots on fallen heroes set to a non-too-subtle melancholy score).
The story also has several troubling elements including sending this one group of SEALs all around the world on this mission. For a film that wants to play it tight and close to the vest for realism it would have made far more sense if the second-half of the film, a mission on the other side of the world, had been carried out by a different team (especially when time is so important).
Given the problematic issues with the plot (which could use at least one more rewrite) and the questionable choice of casting non-actors in roles that call for quite a bit of acting Act of Valor struggles more than it succeeds. At best it’s a curiosity that you might want to check out on cable in a few years, but only for the action sequences.