Susan Granger's review of 'Act of Valor'
The idea for this true-to-life action adventure emanated from Navy brass, who gave former stuntmen-turned-producers/directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, unprecedented access to the world of the SEALS in order to build their enlistment ranks and to show the public how the secretive commando forces work and the sacrifices they make to combat global terrorism.
"We needed a vehicle that would allow us to tell the story of who we are and who we're not," explains 27 year-old Capt. Duncan Smith, who is one of the film's stars, in the publicity notes.
Rather than audition actors, McCoy and Waugh recruited eight, anonymous real-life SEALs whom they felt represented a cross-section of the corps, while screenwriter Kurt Johnstad created an uneven, generic plotline in which the team would rescue a captured/tortured C.I.A. operative, played by actress Roselyn Sanchez, and stop Chechen suicide bombers from obliterating American cities.
"We'd tell the SEALs, `We have a bad guy who's on a 180-foot yacht in the middle of the ocean with two counter-piracy boats protecting him. How can we get him?' They'd bring out the whiteboards and design the entire ops plans," reveals McCoy. "Using sometimes as many as 12 cameras, we would film around that."
Because the SEALS were on active duty during filming, many of the action scenes also served as part of their training regimen and the Navy reserved the right to cut any security compromises. Since the realistic concept was unique, no Hollywood studio was initially interested, forcing McCoy and Waugh to raise the $20 million needed for the budget. With serendipitous timing, however, just as filming concluded last May, the SEAL Team 6 that killed Osama bin Laden became internationally acclaimed heroes and Relativity Media immediately snapped up the rights.
Without structure and character development, the focus rests entirely on violent, chaotic combat sequences, involving up-to-the-minute battlefield technology.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Act of Valor" is a seriously authentic, fragmented 5, but it's never clear whether it's recruitment propaganda or a ponderous, vaguely comprehensible documentary.