In “Act of Valor,” the filmmakers turned a typical action film on its head by using eight active-duty Navy SEALs to put their real-life missions on the big screen. Although it lacks the star power in movies such as “Mission Impossible” or “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the respect you might already have for these men will be magnified after you leave the theater.
The SEALs were tasked in the capture and death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. According to production notes provided by Relativity Media, nearly 1,000 sailors begin SEAL training each year. It takes nearly two years to complete the training course, and fewer than 300 finish. From there, they train for at least another year before deployment.
It is because of this level of intensity — especially emotional — that the filmmakers chose to forgo professional actors for the leading characters. The directors, Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh of the Bandito Brothers, said actors would not be able to portray the true anguish families and SEALs endure before they deploy.
This choice was important to the SEALs as well, who wanted to break stereotypes. “We’re not a bunch of wild, aggressive guys,” said Lt. Commander Rorke, who appears in the film. “That component exists in our capacity for work and for aggression on the battlefield. But that’s not who we are when we’re back home. The U.S. Navy SEALs are mostly quiet, humble men who want to serve and do the nation’s work.”
Chief Dave, a married father of five, leads the film. His voice has remnants of sadness but also a calm reassurance. He seems to be the narrator, although it becomes clear he is not speaking to you but someone else.
After learning CIA agent Lisa Vaughn (Roselyn Sanchez) has been kidnapped, the SEALs prepare a mission to rescue her. The night before they leave involves a bonfire on the beach where happiness and fun mask the real sense of seriousness, nervousness and sadness.
The next day is one they are all too familiar with: saying goodbye without letting their loved ones sense their fears. The families stand proud as their husbands hug and kiss them goodbye, only to fall apart once the men are out of their sight.
It’s business as usual until their rescue mission switches gears and the team learns of a terror plot involving a rich smuggler, a man who hates Americans, and a terrorist tool that is highly undetectable but easily detonated. Their collaboration has the possibility of wiping out their targets as stadiums and the White House.
The stealth in which the SEALs carry out their missions will leave you speechless. On sea, air and land — these men can adjust to any environment. They jump from planes, hide out in the desert and navigate jungles and swamps with unbelievable ease.
The film does have a degree of unevenness at times with the SEALs paired with professional actors, but audiences will be forgiving. The SEALs don’t have a need for forced tears or other dramatics in order to portray what they do to keep us safe.
The filmmakers tried to make this film as real as possible, even utilizing camera tricks reminiscent of video games where you can change the views. Unfortunately, this resulted in a dizzy mess at times on screen. There were also some combat scenes that looked like they were shot by someone’s camcorder. The authenticity the filmmakers attempted to create was sometimes unsuccessful and made the film look amateurish.
What wasn’t in question is the burden these men carry — for their country and, most importantly, their families. There were some quiet moments where the audience was really able to feel this. As Chief Dave says, they are already lost if they are not ready to give everything. The brotherhood of the Navy SEALs was also prevalent in the film.
The directors were right — a professional actor could pull off the battle scenes, but the emotional toll is only something these SEALs could do without question. Fans of action films will get a thrill from “Act of Valor,” but this movie is about much more than that. Everyone who sees it will leave with respect for this brave group who do what some of us might not ever be able to achieve.