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'Act of Valor' offers steely action, wooden acting, critics say

February 24, 2012 |  4:38 pm

Act of Valor

The new action movie "Act of Valor," about an elite squad of commandos trying to foil a deadly terrorist plot, brings a novel addition to the genre: real Navy SEALs. The movie stars active-duty SEALs in the lead roles and grew out of military recruiting efforts, eventually becoming a feature film. According to movie critics, the film betrays its origins, offering crackerjack action scenes but also stiff acting and a thin story.

The Times' own Kenneth Turan writes that "Act of Valor," co-directed by Mike "Mouse" McCoy and Scott Waugh, "still has some of that promotional film feeling to it, plus a healthy dose of worshipful mythologizing." Turan says the SEALs "are certainly impressive in combat situations" and "the split-second logistics of SEAL operations, not to mention the gear they have at their disposal, is also remarkable." Alas, "impressive as all this is, it can't hide the fact that these total warriors can't really act, a situation that may not matter in combat but has to be characterized as a drawback in a motion picture."

Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, characterizes "Act of Valor" as "pure action, punctuated by terse dialogue and few subtleties." The soldiers are "convincing" and "capable" in their roles, Ebert says, but the roles themselves aren't particularly nuanced: "We don't get to know the characters as individuals, they don't have personality traits, they have no back stories, they don't speak in colorful dialogue, and after the movie you'd find yourself describing events but not people."

In the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis agrees with Turan, writing "whatever talents these warriors possess, acting is not among them. And why should it be?" The action sequences, which the SEALs choreographed themselves, are deemed "impressive" and "jaw-dropping," but the whole "never coheres into a real movie."

USA Today's Claudia Puig also finds the stunts impressive and adds that "the cinematography polishes their efforts to a glossy sheen." Less successful for Puig is the dialogue, which "verges on cliché"; the violence, which "grows numbing"; and the voice-over narration, "veering from emotional to heavy-handed."

For Chicago Tribune movie critic Michael Phillips, the action sequences in "Act of Valor" are a mixed bag. Some, Phillips says, "feel different, and truer, than the average war picture"; others, however, seem "straight out of the video game 'Call of Duty,' " complete with "the same old first-person-shooter aesthetic."

The Washington Post's Mark Jenkins takes issue with "Act of Valor's" script, which "undermines the sense of authenticity at every turn." Jenkins writes that "the stiffness of the Navy men's performances is less of a problem than the global-conspiracy plot" — a plot that is unrealistic and too tidy.

It would seem that audiences looking for accomplished acting and complex characters won't find much of either in "Act of Valor" — but for those seeking expert action and daring stunts, perhaps the SEALs are just the right men for the job.


The U.S. military's Hollywood connection

'Act of Valor' must balance publicity, secrecy with Navy SEALs

Word of Mouth: 'Act of Valor' marketing poised to accomplish mission

-- Oliver Gettell

Photo: "Act of Valor." Credit: Relativity Media

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