Act of Valor (US - BD RA)
Gabe continues post vacation catch-up with some active duty Navy SEALs...
When the rescue of a kidnapped CIA operative leads to the discovery of a deadly terrorist plot against the U.S., a team of Navy SEALs is dispatched on a worldwide manhunt. As the valiant men of Bandito Platoon race to stop a coordinated attack that could kill and/or wound thousands of American civilians, they must balance their commitment to country, team and their families back home. Each time they accomplish their mission, a new piece of intelligence reveals another shocking twist to the deadly terror plot, which stretches from Chechnya to the Philippines and from Ukraine to Somalia. The widening operation sends the SEALs across the globe as they track the terrorist ring to the U.S./Mexico border where they engage in an epic firefight with an outcome that has potentially unimaginable consequences for the future of America. (from the official Relativity Media synopsis)
Act of Valor is, at its very base, a brilliant piece of exploitation filmmaking that doesn’t actually have to be a good movie for its high-concept gimmick to work. Better yet, it doesn’t have to be a good movie to effectively pay homage to the active duty Navy SEALs involved in the project. The filmmakers’ ‘to-do’ list is topped by respectful representations of non-actors and gnarly action – coherent storytelling and well-rounded characters (I dare you to try and tell these guys apart) are categorized somewhere below ‘fiery explosions’ and ‘blood squibs.’ At its best, Act of Valor lives up to its promise of the simple pleasures of kickass dudes kicking ass. At its worst, it’s a shaky blend of made-for-television reenactments, eye-rolling clichés, unplayable videogame action and obvious recruitment tactics (the United States Navy only participated with the project because they intended on using it as a recruitment tool). Basically, any time characters are warbling through expositional dialogue, Act of Valor becomes an unmitigated bore.
When wrapped up in discussion, the film-watching experience is similar to that of sitting through unskippable videogame cut-scenes and impatiently mashing the action button in a vain attempt to get back to playing the damn level. There’s just so much fat that should’ve been trimmed during the editing stage. Shorn of maybe 15 or 20 minutes, this might have been a successful action gut-punch and possibly even the best unofficial video game adaptation I’ve ever seen. Still, it’s pretty easy to forgive the time wasting storyline (the villain is a ridiculous catch-all of middle American fears – he’s a Jewish-raised Russian-turned Muslim terrorist whose ultimate plan involves smuggling Mexicans across the border…), which is equal parts over-simplified and over-complicated and the weak, unnatural performances make sense, given the performers’ general lack of experience (and, make no mistake, these guys cannot act). But man, the faux-poetic and seemingly Terrence Malick-inspired narration and dopey character interactions are more brutal than the child-maiming violence. I understand that heavy-handed moral soliloquies are an ongoing part of B-action movies, and sometimes I can even find joy in the inadvertent silliness of it all (see: any Steven Segal movie or Italian Apocalypse Now rip-off), but this stuff hits an extra special level of dumb.
Producing/directing team Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh have plenty of style between them (I’m unclear on how the directing duties are divided) and, outside some jerky cuts and dumb fades, their action sequences feature solid geographical set-ups and delightfully dizzying camera work. Sometimes, they overdo the hand-held (helmet-held?) look while trying to create vaguely subjective POV shots, but the confusing bits don’t last too long. The team’s biggest problems is their choice of the 2.35:1 frame, which squeezes their dramatic close-ups to death. My problem with the action is that, even when danger is established, it's hard to really believe anyone is in genuine trouble. Ridley Scott’s similarly real life-ish and similarly sappy Blackhawk Down drives home the threat of the violence in every scene. Here, things don’t ever feel particularly threatening, even when our heroes actually start to die bloody. The casualties are just sort of expected, rather than genuinely shocking.
According to specs, Act of Valor was shot using an array of camera rigs and styles, including 18mm, 21mm, 25mm and 35mm film and DSLR digital formats. The mixed-media look leads to some less than consistent grain and detail levels, but, outside of some occasionally fuzzy blacks and occasionally rough edges, the look is relative average for type. Details are pretty consistent, though the regular use of shallow focus keeps background elements soft wherever static establishing shots aren’t concerned. The consistent rattle of the camera causes some blurry, mushy edges and some shots are just too dark to really tell what’s going on, but, assuming cinematographer Shane Hurlbut is willing to stop fiddling with the focus, the high level of detail ensures most of the important edge highlights are discernable. Contrast levels are rock-hard throughout, displaying very little in the way of edge artifacts. The colour palette is pretty playful, considering the ‘real life action’ concepts, and feature an eclectic mix of natural and unnatural hues. In fact, the palette changes up so regularly, it sometimes appears to be a continuity error, but darn if they don’t look pretty in 1080p. These colours feature some minor banding effects when blended and the warmer hues are a bit noisy, but I didn’t notice any major bleeding or blooming.
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is big and lively from the word go. The sound design only goes quiet during the most ‘vital’ (I use the word loosely) dialogue sequences. Outside of these, even relatively action-free sequences feature a bevy of stereo and surround enhancement. Basic outdoor ambience, like chirping birds and bugs, is hyper-realistic, often punctuating the importance of silence during an infiltration mission. The bigger and more bombastic action scenes feature heavy LFE punch and plenty of directional movement, including just about every calibre of gunfire known to man and massive explosions that rocket throughout the channels. I’m most impressed with the quieter preparation sequences, where the sound designers utilize the consistent POV motif and set effects off-screen, as if we were experiencing the set-up from within a SEAL’s head. Videogame and Lego tie-in composer Nathan Furst’s score is undistinguished and often lost in the noise of battle, but when given a proper chance to have real aural control, sounds plenty warm and smooth.
The extras start with a commentary track from producers/directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh. This track verges on being too serious throughout, but there are occasionally moments of light hearted levity that break the trend. Most of the time is spent on praising the SEALs and their awesome actions, the various locations where the film was shot and the process of capturing the action on-camera, despite safety limitations put in place by the Navy and other technical advisors. There are some interesting stories about the ways the SEALs’ real lives and reactions to the material sculpted the final film, but a whole lot of time is wasted on describing the on-screen action and obvious subtext that no one needs spelled out for them. There isn’t a lot of blank space, but plenty of repetition and not a whole lot of discussion about what precise promises were made to the US Navy in order to secure their support.
Next up is a series of featurettes and interviews, starting with the directors’ intro (3:20, HD), which gives us a brief back-story on the early production. This is followed by interviews with seven of the active duty Navy SEALs[/I] (30:10, HD), where the non-actors are given a chance to speak directly to camera about their inspirations and experiences with both the film and real-life service. Making of Act of Valor (5:30, HD) is a pretty fluffy extended ad-style EPK, featuring choice shots from the film, brief behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the producer/directors, director of photography Shane Hurlbut, post-production producer Jacob Rosenberg and the SEALs. Real Bullets (2:10, HD) continues the EPK mode with a brief look at the fact that much of the film was shot using life-fire bullets, not blanks. Real SEALs (2:30, HD) is more of the same with a focus on the SEALs as personalities. Silent Warriors (2:50, HD) is just purely an ad for the film as sold by the participating SEALs. The disc also features six deleted scenes (9:20, HD), ‘For You’ music video from Keith Urban, the making-of the video, a trailer, trailers for other Fox releases, a DVD copy and a Digital copy.
Separated from its real Navy SEAL gimmick, Act of Valor is a decent action movie, but its weak, jumbled, videogame cut-scene storyline slows the film to a crawl time and time again. Overall the film is better than expected, but it’s still not really more than average at best. The video presentation suffers a bit of mixed media noise, but is generally very good and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack sounds great, even between bits of noisy action. The extras are a pretty disappointing mix of vague information and extended trailers.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 5th June 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Directors' Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Interviews with the Real Navy SEALs, Director's Introduction, Real Bullets, Real SEALs, Making Act of Valor, Silent Warriors, Music Video, Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Scott Waugh and Mike 'Mouse' McCoy
Cast: Roselyn Sánchez, Nestor Serrano, Emilio Rivera, U.S. Navy SEALs
Length: 111 minutes
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