February 25, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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ACT OF VALOR:  Watch It At Home –  Fast Forward When They’re Not Shooting


If there were a genuine national military crisis, and a small group of expert soldiers were needed to protect the interests of the country, would you want George Clooney or Brad Pitt behind the triggers of those guns?  Not really.  As they’d be the first to tell you, they’re better off sticking to their day jobs.  The same is true in reverse, and the gimmicky action movie ACT OF VALOR demonstrates that Navy SEALs should let Clooney, Pitt and their ilk handle the acting.

 Valor famously began as a Pentagon recruitment documentary project, and mutated into a scripted feature film directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh (the first feature for each) and written–to the extent that word is appropriate (you’ve never heard such terrible, or incessant, voice-over)–by 300‘s Kurt Johnstad.  Calling it a “bad idea” is a matter of definition, since it seems as though it’s going to make plenty of money, but it’s certainly far from a good movie.


Although technically Valor is about a  Moslem Chechen terrorist and his plot to smuggle Filipino Moslems into the US wearing non-metal suicide bomb vests, that’s just a pretext on which action sequences can be hung. The gimmick at the center of Valor is the casting of real-life, active-duty Navy SEALs as the movie’s heroes.  (An ancillary part of the stunt is that none of the “actors” are identified by their full names for purported security reasons, although apparently revealing their faces on worldwide movie screens won’t compromise their anonymity in any way, and no one involved with the movie had the novel concept of giving the characters made-up names.)  We know almost nothing about any of them except for the contrivance that one has a pregnant wife and hopes to get back to her in time for the birth–this being the script’s only piece of characterization, it’s referred to approximately 2 thousand times in the course of the movie’s 111 minutes.

The casting is intended to bring verisimilitude to the picture, but the flat line-readings and lack of camera presence actually makes everything seem more fake than a movie with actors would feel.  Ironically enough, the villains, who are played by professional actors, have more substance than any of the soldiers.  (Let’s not even speculate about the bizarre decision to specifically identify the main Moslem terrorist’s wealthy, yacht-owning accomplice as Jewish, and to cast the role with an actor who has an enormous hooked nose.)

The truth is that no one will go to see Act of Valor for scintillating dialogue or the depth of its performances.  The picture is being marketed for its action sequences, and there really is a dazzling one in the movie’s first half, as the SEALs have to rescue a captured CIA agent (Rosalyn Sanchez) from the bad guys.  Things don’t go as planned, and the entire sequence has the rousing, convincing feel of a Tom Clancy novel come to life.  Unfortunately, that’s the high point.  The directors make far too much use of helmet-cams in the remaining battle scenes, resulting in confusing, muddled,, jaggedly edited set-pieces that resemble the visuals from first-person videogames and make no spatial sense.  (The much-vaunted use of “live ammunition” at times is also meaningless to the viewer–obviously none of the injuries or killings in the film are real, so the major parts of these sequences are certainly faked, and Hollywood does a perfectly good job of simulating a reality that looks as good as anything seen here.)

Act of Valor, in the end, is more a piece of marketing than it is a movie:  the Navy SEAL brand name is used much like a celebrity endorsement for a particular brand of sneakers or cosmetics, to make its claims seem cooler and more effectively “true”.  Action Movie, now with more Real Soldiers!  At a theatre near you.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."