Friday, February 24, 2012

“Act of Valor” – Modern Warfare

You’re squinting through the holographic sight of an M4A1 rifle when a small, canister shaped object smacks the wall next to you. You hear a pop and, suddenly, everything goes bright white and a searing pain shoots through your head as you drop to a prone position. You hear bullets hissing through the air above you and burying themselves in the wall behind you. As your vision starts to clear up, you make out an object in front of you and realize that it is too late. In the next moment, several bullets hit you and you are dead. Luckily, you don’t feel any of this, since you are sitting on your couch with a game controller in your hand as you wait for your avatar to respawn. For some of you, it’s Rainbow Six, for others, it’s Battlefield, and for an extremely large portion of us, it’s Call of Duty. We play the games for their realism, the weapons and tools designed to mimic their real-life counterparts as much as possible (usually with consultancy from military or defense contract personnel), and, quite possibly, for some reasons that many psychologists would be interested to hear. The film Act of Valor is the next logical step in the ongoing effort to bring us the most real depiction of combat short of actually sending us to Afghanistan.

In what started out as a recruitment project for the U.S. Navy SEALs, Act of Valor is a film featuring active duty SEALs portraying – what is normally left to Steven Seagal and Michael Biehn – Navy SEALs. According to interviews, directors/producers Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh realized that the roles they had written could only be realistically portrayed by actual SEALs. When the movie starts, these two actual say this in a short prologue describing the production of the movie. In the biggest insult to actors I’ve ever heard (which includes things that I’ve said), they say that no actor could portray the emotion that the SEALs and their families portrayed and that no actors could physically do what the SEALs do. I really hope these two don’t have big plans for their future or that all actors have suddenly gone deaf. Especially Jesse Ventura (retired SEAL).

As I was saying, the film started out for the purpose of recruiting, and the filmmakers realized they had something bigger than that. After the real-life heroics of SEAL Team 6 in the past year, studios wanted to make a new SEAL movie and these guys realized they already had one. With a little more editing and polishing, they simply had to market it a little bit and BAM!! What could be described as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4 was born.

The film begins with a training exercise, cutting to some bad guys kidnapping a CIA agent. The SEALs are given their assignment – to retrieve the agent – and all of the intelligence is presented in the form of narration and a world map with digital boxes and text springing up. It all plays out exactly like the single-player campaign mode of all the aforementioned games. The SEALs embark on their mission, rescue the agent, and recover some intelligence that leads us to the real plot – a terrorist plan to commit suicide bombings in America. Did I mention that this movie is intended to recruit new soldiers?

What makes this movie different than other war/action films is that much of the footage comes from live-fire SEAL training exercises. This adds a very interesting realism component that I’ve talked so much about. The filmmakers do an excellent job of splicing that footage with their scripted footage – almost to the point where you will question if they really are shooting terrorists. Relax…I said almost. There are scenes featuring gunboats firing on vehicles, overhead video of a Raven (hand-launched UAV), the SEALs storming different structures, and a HALO jump. Perhaps the coolest scene is an overhead view of a diving submarine after the team (including the filmmakers) rendezvous with it. I really can’t describe how awesome the scene is, so you’ll just have to take my word for it (or go see it). And in case you are wondering, I will not be defining those acronyms.

I’d love to be able to say the movie has no flaws, but it’s impossible to look past the SEALs’ acting, specifically the delivery of their lines in certain scenes. I didn’t expect anything, so it’s really not a knock on them, but it becomes obvious every time a scene with real actors takes place, because the SEALs are painfully wooden in comparison. I simply mention it because it’s like watching athletes try to act. Luckily, they more than make up for it during the action scenes. Not only are they in their element, but they took the liberty of rewriting much of the dialogue because “that’s not something I would ever say” (said by one of the SEALs in a promotional interview).

The movie as a whole is pretty good and the story flows nicely. The one thing you really have to remember is that, like those video games, the main goal of the movie is to recruit you to America’s side. The movie all but asks you to sign up for SEAL training (the video games are much more subtle). I’m very curious to see how the film is received next month, when it is released in France and the U.K. Though, they don’t seem to have any problem playing those same video games online.

Rating: Don’t ask for any of your money back. For a February release (plus its obvious agenda), this movie is an excellent action flick. Your wife will hate it as much as she hates your games.

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