Featuring a cast of active-duty Navy SEALs and based on ‘real life acts of valour’, former film stuntmen Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh’s 2012 directorial debut Act of Valour is an adrenaline-soaked action adventure fuelled on tired clichés and a simplistic grasp of world politics – a banal and incredibly manipulative piece of military recruitment with all the charm and charisma of an 18th century press gang.
The assassination of an US Ambassador in the Philippines illuminates a potentially devastating plot to undermine the integrity of America’s democracy. The extent of these activities isn’t truly understood until a team of highly trained Navy SEALs rescue an informant from a heavily guarded terrorist base. What they discover is every honest American’s nightmare scenario – with a team of corrupt Russian arms dealers in cahoots with Muslim extremists to use the secret tunnels built by the Mexican drug cartels to smuggle suicide bombers into America. The SEALs must then navigate through a treacherous series of shoot-outs, nautical assaults and dodgy European accents if they’re to save their country from the duel threat of ‘terror and tyranny’.
Opening with a wooden, uncharismatic voice-over, reading a letter to a fatherless son, Act of Valour is a film riddled with clichéd sentiment, aiming to manipulate the audience into perceiving its cast of charmless actors into a collection of heroes who deserve our full attention. Whilst the SEALs’ chosen profession requires a specialised skill-set, so to does acting – something instantly apparent once the band of non-actors attempt to deliver their lines, culminating in the type of vacant, expressionless on-screen performance more akin to a video game cut-scene.
This computer-generated style soon infects the rest of the movie, with the film’s immersive action sequences feeling like they’ve been plucked straight from a game of Call of Duty. The nauseating over-use of first-person perspective is obviously intended to pull the audience into the film is the cinematic equivalent of watching someone else play a computer game whilst you’re expected to applaud each time they score a head shot or combo kill. It’s this clumsy concoction of high octane action movie set pieces with cynical immersion tactics that soon dilutes the film’s impassioned plea to present the emotionally crippling effects of conflict, quickly glorifying warfare and depicting it as a simplistic and exhilarating battle between good and evil.
From its pre-deployment beach party – where we’re introduced to these elite soldiers and informed of their tragic pasts and previously directionless lives (one was a shelf stacker whilst another was found ‘dirt poor’ in Trinidad) – and with an ethical code evolved from a foreign policy built on fear and paranoia, watching Act of Valour’s SEALs defend such stalwart American ideals as freedom and democracy is a ludicrous, yet painfully dull experience.