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Act of Valor(2012)
When the rescue of a kidnapped CIA operative leads to the discovery of a deadly terrorist plot against the U.S., a team of SEALs is dispatched on a worldwide manhunt. As the valiant men of Bandito Platoon race to stop a coordinated attack that could kill and wound thousands of American civilians, they must balance their commitment to country, team and their families back home.
For more about Act of Valor and the Act of Valor Blu-ray release, see Act of Valor Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 6, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez, Nestor Serrano, Antoni Corone, Ernie Reyes, Jr.
Directors: Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh
» See full cast & crew
Act of Valor Blu-ray Review
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4: Act of Valor
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 6, 2012
Certain movies inevitably reveal the divide not just between critics and audiences, whose tastes aren't always aligned, but also between liberal and conservative viewers. Act of Valor is one of them. Despite being almost uniformly trashed in professional reviews, the film was a big box office draw—it looks to be a huge seller on home video too—and a quick scan of audience opinions on the usual aggregate sites reveals a near-equal split between those who appreciate Act of Valor for its non-stop action and pro-military stance, and those who write it off as a jingoistic recruitment ad stretched to feature length. Though it's a gross generalization to say that all heartland-of-America Republicans will love the movie while all coastal- elite Democrats collectively roll their eyes, there does seem to be some kind of indirect correlation at play.
But let's set dichotomous worldviews aside. My problem with Act of Valor isn't political. While I have my personal convictions, I appreciate stories that show all sides of war, from patriotic, noble sacrifice-type films to fiercely anti-war polemics and—better yet—those that lie somewhere in between. The fact is, war is complicated—psychologically, ideologically, ethically—and the best movies about the subject portray it that way. Act of Valor doesn't, unfortunately, preferring to oversimplify on every level. And although it strings together one kickass action sequence after another, the film has trouble making us care about its characters, undeveloped ciphers who might as well be starring in a video game.
The anonymity is no accident. The film's key roles are filled by active-duty Navy SEALs who are essentially playing themselves and who—for security reasons, presumably—aren't allowed to be identified in the credits, except by their first names. They're practically indistinguishable in the story as well. The only standouts are best buds Lieutenant Rorke, whose wife is expecting, and Chief Dave, a dad of five. They occasionally banter about fatherhood and the "warriors' blood" of their progeny, and they provide the film's ongoing, wannabe Thin Red Line-style voiceover narration, philosophizing over-earnestly with cliche lines like "you live your life by a code," and "if you're not willing to give up everything, you've already lost." (The script tends to vacillate between this kind of bumper sticker-ready sloganeering and extremely precise technical jargon.) The other men in their company are briefly introduced during a beachside sendoff—Weimy, the sniper; Ray, from east-L.A. gangland; Sonny, EOD Operator; Ajay, former Muay Thai fighter; bearded Senior Chief Miller, and 20-year-veteran Mikey, "as quiet as the breeze"—but this is about as far as we get to know them.
The film's story isn't quite ripped from the headlines, but it's certainly plausible and supposedly "based on real acts of valor," if we're to believe the opening credits. In Costa Rica, a CIA agent is kidnapped after getting too close to Mikhail "Christo" Troykovich (Alex Veadov), a drug smuggler who's somehow in cahoots with Chechen terrorist Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle), the mastermind behind a recent bombing in the Philippines that killed a U.S. diplomat. Shabal's next deadly venture is ante-upping; he plans to arm sixteen would-be martyrs with untraceable suicide vests—loaded with explosive gel-filled ceramic ball bearings—sneak them under the Mexico-California border through cartel tunnels, and dispatch them to high-tourist-density targets across the country. (As a Washingtonian, I appreciated that Seattle's Pike Place Market made the list.) The SEALs' globe-trotting mission, then, is three-fold: 1.) Rescue the CIA operative, 2.) take down Christo and Shabal, and 3.) put bullets through the heads of anyone who gets in the way, apparently, as many a cartel goon gets his brain-matter splattered across a corrugated iron wall. And, yes, the rather generic plot does resemble a compressed version of a mid-series season of 24. I half-expected Jack Bauer to show up and waterboard someone.
Here's a relevant passage from Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage: "He had had the belief that real war was a series of death struggles with small time in between for sleep and meals; but since his regiment had come to the field the army had done little but sit still and try to keep warm." I mention it because Act of Valor is the exact opposite; here, military life is a non-stop thrill ride of kicking ass and thwarting terrorism, with small time in between to debrief and attend the funerals of fallen comrades. This movie is all action, and much of it is impressively shot and edited, giving a heightened sense of what it must be like to be a SEAL on a covert mission, stealthily approaching enemy encampments and then taking out the baddies in series of deadly calculated maneuvers. Not only does Act of Valor feature honest-to-goodness SEALs doing what they do best, but many of the scenes were shot with live ammo for authenticity, a real Hollywood rarity. The thing is, the guns a'blazing action sequences are all the film has going for it. The attempts to tug our heartstrings are ham-handed, and the performances...well, let's just say the non-actors are obviously giving it their best.
Act of Valor got its start as a project when co-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh—the extreme sports documentarians behind Step Into Liquid—produced a promo video for the U.S. Navy. After writing a script about the SEALs, they realized their film could only be made using real-life soldiers, and the Navy gladly accepted their proposal. Make no mistake, the movie is intended as a recruitment tool. In a recent Huffington Post article, Rear Adm. Denny Moynihan explained, "For the Navy and the SEAL community, it was 'Hey, you need 500 more SEALs' and that launched a series of initiatives to try to attract more people. This film was one of those initiatives." Calling Act of Valor a nearly two-hour commercial isn't off the mark at all. The film baits its target demographic of 18-30 year-old men with a visual language familiar to most of them—the conventions of first-person shooters. Many of the firefights feature down-the-barrel P.O.V. shots that attempt to put the audience in the boots of the on-screen characters. Viewing the movie is a bit like watching someone else play a video game—it's fun for a while, but eventually you'll want to play for yourself. And the U.S. Navy is certainly hoping you will.
Act of Valor Blu-ray, Video Quality
If you needed additional proof that small digital SLRs can be potent filmmaking tools, look no further. Act of Valor was shot exclusively with Canon 5D Mark II cameras—which can be bought off the shelf for a little over two grand—and in general, the film's 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray presentation looks fantastic. There are a few scenes where the combination of shallow depth of field and imprecise focusing create a noticeably soft image, but otherwise the picture is quite sharp. The details of the SEALS' weaponry and uniforms, the textures of their camouflaged faces, the surfaces of bullet-riddled walls and vehicles—all are finely rendered. The color grading is great too; jungle foliage is a dense green, earthy neutrals are rich, skin tones are balanced, and most scenes feature a warm yellowish cast that adds some heat to the image. And while you'll spot some blown-out highlights and occasionally crushed blacks, the contrast curve is usually spot-on. Source noise and compression noise are minimal—even in darker sequences—but you will see some slight aliasing on fine parallel lines, along with a few fleeting instances of color banding and some mild rolling shutter issues. Nothing distracting, though. What impresses most here is how a prosumer-grade digital camera can produce a picture that's nearly indistinguishable from one made by more expensive rigs like the Red One or Arri Alexa. Talk about democratization.
Act of Valor Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Even better is Act of Valor's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, a hard-hitting mix that effectively puts you right in the middle of the action. And since the film is basically all action, you're getting an almost non-stop sonic onslaught. Of course, you can expect loud gunshots galore—spraying in every direction, practically punching holes through the soundfield—and massive explosions that ripple outward, sending debris flying through the space around your head. But you'll also hear near-constant ambience, from wind during a skydiving infiltration and crickets humming at dusk, to the clamor and chaos of the many firefights. Nathan Furst's score generally complements the action—rather than overpowering it—and like the effects, the music has all of the range and oomph and clarity that it needs. Throughout the insanity, dialogue—with few exceptions—remains clear and easily understood. Conversations in languages other than English feature forced subtitles in a goofy military-esque typeface, and the disc also includes optional English SDH and Spanish subs for that might need or want them. No complaints here whatsoever—a first-rate rock 'em, sock 'em audio track.
Act of Valor Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Act of Valor Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It'd be interesting to graph Act of Valor's Blu-ray sales across red and blue states just to see if there is indeed any correlation. The film is certainly divisive—critically bashed, but a box-office success—but I wouldn't jump the gun and claim this as evidence of the quote-unquote liberal media bias. However you feel about Act of Valor's pro-war, pro-badass-headshots-from-afar stance, the film's flaws are glaring—stilted line readings, an utter lack of character development, and an overly simplified take on global terrorism. If you want to turn off your brain and watch some 'splosions you'll probably be reasonably entertained—the action is more than competently pulled off—but don't expect a multi-faceted, emotionally gripping war story, a la Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan. What you can expect, if you're already sure you'll like the film, is a fantastic Blu-ray presentation, with great picture quality, a blow-your-face-off audio track, and lots of extras.
Act of Valor: Other Editions
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Act of Valor Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Act of Valor Blu-ray - April 4, 2012
In June, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will bring Act of Valor to Blu-ray. Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh's action-thriller uses active-duty Navy SEALs to tell a fictionalized account of the hunt to stop a dangerous terrorist cell. Act of Valor ...
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