‘Act of Valor’ is great on action light on story

Soldiers on the move in 'Act of Valor'
Soldiers on the move in ‘Act of Valor’

Tango is the phonetic alphabet word for the letter “T”.  It’s also a term used by the special operations units of the U.S. military to describe terrorists and their supporters.

Operators is a term used by SEALs and members of the “Delta” force to describe Special Forces personnel who go out into the world to carry out their highly classified missions.

Act of Valor is all about how the elite Navy SEAL operators take out tangos in large numbers while working to keep the U.S. safe from an attack that willmake 9/11 look like a minor incident.   The film features real-life SEALs portraying the highly trained, superbly skilled operators.

The basic story is supposedly “woven” together from five real world missions that were carried out by SEALs in the post 9/11 era.  The script, from Kurt Johnstad, is fairly generic.  There is a terrorist named Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle) who is a Muslim convert from Chechnya who was the childhood friend of Christo (Alex Veadov) who happens to be a smuggler and arms merchant.

Shabal operates primarily in the Pacific, most notably the Philippines and Indonesia and has a number of dedicated followers willing to die carrying out terrorist attacks planned by Shabal.  The CIA, although fairly unaware of Shabal, is keeping an eye on Christo’s operations in Costa Rica.

Real-life Navy SEALs hit the big screen in 'Act of Valor'
Real-life Navy SEALs hit the big screen in ‘Act of Valor’

Meanwhile, the SEALs are at home in the San Diego area, about to go on a deployment aboard a Navy ship.  Lieutenant Roark is the leader of the “Bandito” platoon and his Chief Petty Officer Dave and he get together to discuss things before the deployment, during which Roark lets Dave in on a piece of good news involving his family.  There is a going away picnic/beach outing involving the entire team, which includes an addition in Senior Chief Otto. Otto was an operator before being wounded and subsequently transferring into intelligence gathering.  His expertise at interrogation is just one of the reasons the Lt. asked that he be added to the Bandito platoon being deployed.

A CIA operative (Roselyn Sanchez) is involved in the CIA effort to monitor Christo and her cover is blown, resulting in her being captured by Christo’s thugs.  When the U.S. becomes aware of her capture, who else would be tasked to rescue her but Lt. Roark’s unit?

What makes Act of Valor worth viewing is front and center from this point forward.  The directors spent 50 some odd weeks spread over two years filming real SEAL training operations that involved live ammunition.  The result is a fantastic set of action sequences that illustrate just how precise and overwhelming SEAL operations can be.

Aided in the recovery mission by two SWCC (acronyms and other useful terms listed in a moment) boats and their crews, the amazing headshots and awesome firepower they bring to bear, along with smart camera work result in very satisfying, realistic action.  These elements are present throughout the remainder of the story and ensuing engagements between the SEALs and the various tangos they encounter en route to the final confrontation between the team and Abu Shabal, being aided near the end by members of a Mexican drug cartel.

What makes Act of Valor a tiny bit difficult to watch is the downside of using real-life SEALs in these key roles in a film.  They are operators, not actors.  As a result, the scenes that aren’t fraught with the intense action that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout most of the movie are a bit stunted.  But this is a film you don’t go watch in order to explore the range of emotions that an actor can put on display.  You’re there to munch on some good popcorn and get into the action.

In that respect, Act of Valor delivers.

Now as promised, a few acronyms and terms that might help in viewing the film:

QRF — Quick reaction force

SWCC — Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen

Trident — the gold badge SEALs wear on their dress uniforms

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