Friday, March 02, 2012

Act of Valor


You cannot deny that Act of Valor is one massive recruitment commercial for the United States Army, having put its elite Navy Seals on display here in a number of missions set to make a career in the armed forces look terribly sexy. If you cannot stand America's flexing of military might in films, as it had done here with the sanctioned participation of real, but unnamed Navy Seals, then this is not the film for you. If you're offended by America's show of overwhelming firepower in its arsenal almost like to kill a chicken with a bull knife, then this is also a film that will set to turn you off.

So why the film reached number one in the US is hardly a no-brainer, with its sense of patriotism steep in its narrative, and paying tribute to active duty servicemen who are fighting for freedom and against tyranny anywhere around the world, and to remember those who have fallen while in the line of duty. Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh hardly hid this bit of flag waving during the end credits, and throughout the film had plenty of moments to showcase everything positive about being part of an elite troop ready to be called upon anywhere in the world for pre-emptive strikes, or to rescue one of their own from terrorists in whatever form they take, regardless of borders they operate in.

Why this film will succeed anywhere else in the world, is its appeal to those curious to take a sneak peek behind the scenes and be in awe of the scope of military hardware on display. In Singapore, full houses can be expected since being in a military is part and parcel of growing up here, and we just love any good ol action film that promises a lot, and delivers, nevermind if the plot is relatively thin, and the characters here being little more than tin soldiers out for their day in the field. Action sequences here are crafted exploiting all aspects of SEALS - Sea, Air and Land, as the troopers here make water-borne assaults, air lift themselves from landing zone to landing zone, and of course attack deep into enemy territory, not as mindless Rambos, but as closely coordinated assault teams that have plans, and backup plans to tackle whatever contingencies that may crop up.

Action junkies will not be disappointed by the number of military hardware on display, from the personal artifacts and effects like uniforms, assault rifles, night vision goggles, to the support equipment from rocket launchers and personal air drones (which by the way is really cool) for that extra edge in air superiority, to the big toys like submarines, aircraft carriers and transport planes and helicopters from which to make airborne drops into opposition territory. Did I mention this was sanctioned by the US military and they had final say on the final cut of the film, making all the imagery here very much like a slick commercial meant to seduce the unsuspecting male into signing up for a tour of duty or two.

The missions the Navy Seals take on are kept distinctly varied in order to provide the spectrum of the job scope, from patient reconnaissance to interrogation (which in the film was possibly nothing spectacular, and Hollywood could have churned out better dialogue here), with hostage extraction to neutralizing enemy combatants. The story isn't much to be in awe about though, having only to exist in order to string the action sequences together, beginning with a targeted bomb attack in the Philippines, then jet setting all around the globe hunting for Russian terrorism financier Christo (Alex Veadov) and his Chechnyan childhood friend turned terrorist, Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle), who's bringing his new found team of suicide bombers with their newly developed ceramic bomb vests into the USA to inflict mass casualty acts of terror.

In between we get introduced to the SEALs platoon from whose point of view we will follow, whose personal lives got introduced, but grossly overshadowed by the action, so much so that we don't really care who's actually who since they all speak the same lingo and execute orders contributing to their shared mission goals and objectives. Acting wise, you'd be hard pressed to spot a recognizable name from the cast, and sad to say everyone looked rather wooden when required to emote, but come alive once they all get to play shoot em ups. There's also a literal demonstration of the title in the film, and do not it says Act, and not Acts, of Valor, although the filmmakers will have you convinced that they had adopted the stories here from real life instances.

For those who enjoy War themed films, then Act of Valor does not disappoint in its delivery of what matters to its intended target audience from the start. Those who play first person shooter army games will also find the cinematography adopted during missions straddle between full views, and views over the shoulder as if we are fighting alongside the troops on screen, and made to look through viewfinders of the assault weapons as if we're the soldier whose boots are on the ground.

Despite the advances of technology in their weaponry, combat still boils down to the individual men who make up a unit of well oiled and coordinated fighters in crack Seal teams ready to take on missions anywhere around the world. Act of Valor (notice the singularity of the title, because it is really just One act in the entire show, and a rather cliched one at that) just makes it look sexier despite the dangers and hazards in the job, and preaches that it's all worthwhile if fighting to promote just cause. And to get your hands dirty when playing with some of the cool toys as well.

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