The popularity of reality TV has inevitably turned us toward reality movies. This scary new genre is not the same as a documentary, which looks at real people doing real things to tell a story. Reality movies take real people and put them in a fictional story, such as in the new war drama Act of Valor.
The film stars real Navy SEALs, who during a rescue mission stumble upon a serious plan for terrorist attacks on American soil. Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh explain before the film that the only way to show the real emotions of soldiers going off to war was to have those roles portrayed by actual members of the military. The soldiers also give the best representation of what real warfare is like. That’s why they used such unorthodox casting.
But neither of those assertions hold water. In Act of Valor, there’s not an ounce of emotion when the SEALs deliver their dialogue, which drains all life out of what should be powerful scenes. Had this movie been shot as a documentary, they would have said their own words. The eight real SEALs who star — but are never named because they still get deployed — are so uncomfortable trying to recite the written dialogue that this may be the only time these elite fighters have ever sweat.
This isn’t the first time real members of the military have been used in film. Audie Murphy returned from World War II a highly decorated hero and went on to make numerous war movies. He wasn’t a great actor, but he had enough charisma to make his performances work. The SEALs in Act of Valor don’t have such charms. The action sequences are intense, but they are no better than those performed by actors in movies such as Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan or The Hurt Locker. If a filmmaker is not going to shoot actual battle footage, then Hollywood has shown countless times the special effects teams can stage a war as well as any real military power.
McCoy and Waugh weaken their action scenes by a jumbled mix of hand-held and point-of-view shots. Their work looks more like a video game version of war than the authentic approach they wanted to present. Navy SEALs are amazing when they stick to what they do best. Acting isn’t one of those skills. Because of that, Act of Valor shows that this reality movie is less of a theatrical release and more of a recruiting film.
Cast: Nestor Serrano, Emilio River, Roselyn Sanchez, Alex Veadov.
Directors: Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh.
Screenwriter: Kurt Johnstad.
Producers: Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh.
A Relativity Media release. Running time: 101 minutes. Language, violence. Opens Friday Feb. 24 at area theaters.