As for the film’s mechanics, it was surprising that Bandito Brothers Productions decided to use authentic SEALs in the film. With a total budget of $18 million, it was the most Hollywood had ever spent on a feature motion picture with a predominantly unknown cast.
This was a risk well worth the gain. What the audience loses in the absence of professionally delivered lines and the exactness of rehearsed, couched emotion by trained actors, it benefits in spades from the presence of real SEALs doing the work they do so well. It was a significantly bold decision.
The gamble paid off as Directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh used their experience filming a recruiting video for Navy Special Warfare Combatant-Craft crewmen in 2007 to convince the studio to produce Act of Valor.
Any good action picture requires a vision that is complementary to the story told. Here, cinematographer Shane Hurlbut absolutely dominated. This was a truly demonstrative undertaking that allowed the real-life exploits of our nation’s elite forces to be recorded as they happened. Through the use of what the cinematography crew called “video-game perspective,” the audience is thrust into some of the most sensory-stimulating sequences in a military-oriented movie since the cockpit action in Top Gun.
Hurlbut and his team filmed Act of Valor using only a series of Canon EOS 5Ds. This is a substantial technological benchmark. They also used 18-mm Zeiss ZFs mounted on the SEALs’ helmets and other creative camera mounts on each set to allow the audience to experience close-quarters combat and special-operations exploits from the shooter’s perspective.
While the narrative itself is sound, the only criticism of the film is that it begged for more storyline about the characters, more about the Navy SEALs themselves—their lives and their families. Something. It needed just a bit more of a human-interest angle that would have provided insight into the men the audience is supposed to follow.
Perhaps ten more minutes of script added to an already lean and precisely cut 110-minute film would have been just enough to highlight who these guys are and where they came from, bringing the audience just a bit closer to an understanding of why these men do what they do.
Nonetheless, McCoy and Waugh deliver the must-see action film of the year. They succeed in capturing the tactical dexterity of real Navy SEALs with stunning cinematography to produce a pulse-pounding movie that had everyone at the ArcLight on the edge of their seats until the final frame.
This reviewer left the theater utterly satisfied and can report that Act of Valor accomplishes its mission not only as great entertainment, but also as an unapologetic warrior-tribute to the sacrifice and commitment of those few brave men who go down-range. Damn few.