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If there is one genre of film that feels hit and miss in its offerings, it would be the military genre. War time films when done right take you on a ride through a time period (Saving Private Ryan, Glory, Black Hawk Down) and land you back safely, with the feeling that you experienced something which shows much more appreciation for the sacrifices that were given to complete the mission presented. Other times military films feel drawn out and at times tiring. By halfway through the film some of these leave you questioning whether the story is worth telling at all. Fortunately for the recently released Act of Valor though, it is a definite hit.
Act of Valor’s main selling point coming up to its release was that it was an action/military film that stars actual active Navy Seals. When the trailers were first released, the first thought that came to mind was that it looked good enough as a rental for its action sequences and not much else. But with convincing from some friends I decided to bust out my free movie pass and head out to the local theater. From the opening minutes of Act of Valor I was immediately impressed by its production thanks to the backing by Relativity Media. The look of the movie was superb, from the satellite map view pinpointing the team’s every location to the action pieces which looked as if most of them were done on location with real FX, not opting for CG. Not to mention a lot of action sequences. Act of Valor featured Halo jumps from planes, underwater deployment from a submarine and (my favorite moment) a hot extraction through the jungles that ends with the Seals hooking up their boat and chain-gun peppering any thing that moved with high velocity rounds. On top of that the film attempts and succeeds in giving us a first person viewpoint, which was used quite often throughout. Though I have always felt the shot is just a gimmick that tends pull the viewer out of the moment, it works well enough here.
But what is most surprising about Act of Valor is how well it was written and acted. For a film where its main stars are active Navy Seals while the rest of the cast are little known actors, Act of Valor showcased that, with the right writing and directing, you do not need big names to help tell a good story. The story itself may or may not have been based on actual events or fictionalized for the sake of secrecy of their work, but it still felt like an actual event that took place thanks to the Seals in the film and their interactions with one another. The start of the story showed the calm before the storm for our heroes. The brotherhood bond that has already developed between the squad is felt almost instantaneously. The narrator of the film profiled each one the squad members with conviction so when it’s time to deploy you do feel for them and their families as they leave a life behind to save another. On the flip side of the fight, the Russian-Middle East villain connection may have been the most convincing. Alex Veadov as Christo and Jason Cottle as Abu Shabal nearly stole the film. Christo as a dealer/smuggler mastermind was a villain not of menace but of cockiness where as Shabal played off as a man to be truly feared. I loved how well developed these characters were that at times I did not want to see them get caught or killed but survive and go on to star in their own buddy spin-off film.
As I said the military genre is a hit or miss. But Act of Valor, had all the right pieces that made this film a hit (and maybe even memorable). The pacing was fast but gave the right amount of time to the characters to keep the audience immersed. Though humorously by the movie’s end, I realized that if it was originally pitched as Call Of Duty: The Movie or Call Of Duty: Act of Valor I would have believed it. Because I really felt they could have fooled us all into believing this was a video game movie…..because it definitely felt like one.