In the wake of a brutal terrorist attack, the world and democracy as a whole come under threat. As global catastrophe looms, it’s up to America’s Navy Seals to save the day in Act of Valour.
Terrorists are bad, or so Act of Valour keeps reminding us. Just a few short moments in and we see a particularly shady fellow exit an ice cream truck and walk away quickly. Seconds later, the truck explodes, killing a multitude of children as they wait for their parents after school. See, terrorists are really bad. However, as a catalyst for the plot, the whole opening comes across as horrifically forced, pulling the audience’s emotional strings in the worst way possible in order to justify the sickening gung-ho heroism that makes up much of the film’s runtime.
Welcome to the world of Act of Valour, a Tom Clancy financed action fest that aims to instil respect toward those who risk their lives for their country. The end result, however, breeds resentment in the film-maker’s methods in obtaining this respectability.
There’s no denying that what these soldiers do in the real world is admirable. Much has been made of the fact that Act of Valour stars real life Navy Seals, with the film-makers stating they can’t imagine anyone else in their roles. Their aim, undoubtedly, is to create a level of realism seldom seen in these kind of action films. There are moments where it pays off. Watching these guys function as a unit during the lengthy action scenes is fascinating, even when the editing gets too ADD at times (often jettisoning any semblance of coherence). They are a team, an individual beast that know exactly how to function in any given situation.
However, the decision to use non-professional actors ultimately backfires as none of these guys can act. Heart-to-heart moments are completely undermined in their cumbersome delivery, the soldiers tripping uncomfortably over the corny dialogue to painfully embarrassing levels. Family stories and speeches about selflessness fall flat where gravitas is needed in order to elevate these moments to anything more than cheesy and clichéd (SPOILER ALERT: the soldier with the pregnant wife, unsurprisingly, dies).
It’s the film’s excruciating gung-ho nature that ultimately kills it. Even if the emotional moments worked, there’s a jarring contrast between the quiet scenes and the action beats that ultimately makes the film fall apart. It’s difficult to empathise with these people when the tone dictates a near animalistic thirst for gunishment against the bad guys; ‘I can’t wait to get home to see my son. I hope he’s proud of his dad. And did you see me turn that terrorist’s face into paté with my overpowered mega-gun of death? Far out!’ It even appeals to the Call of Duty crowd (of which this film could definitely be sued for plagiarism) with its incessant use of first-person camera mode. It’s difficult to decide whether to laugh at it or cry with despair. Often, you’ll do both.
It would be easy lambast Act of Valour as pro-America gun porn (which it is), yet this kind of on the nose film-making is offensive regardless of what nation it’s from. Brash, loud and deeply patronising, it leaves a turgid stink in its wake.
Modern Warfare 3 was more convincing.