The latest gung-ho Hollywood war movie to disembark on Australian shores is predictably chocked to the gills with guns, explosions, beefcake soldiers and petrified looking foreigners. But Act of Valour, from directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, new kids on the explosives-laden blockbuster block, is distinguishable from the rest of the “fire in the hole” flag wavers for a couple of interesting reasons.

The principal cast are all active duty US Navy SEALS (several served as advisers to the filmmakers) which makes Valour one of the more expensive Hollywood productions to feature unknown actors. McCoy and Waugh also largely ignore Hollywood’s staple three act structure, whizzing audiences across the globe at breakneck speed as the SEALS rescue hostages and neutralize enemy hotspots in a series of disconnected missions related to the war on terror.

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Predictably, the acting is — shall we say — less than Oscar worthy. The dialogue is infused with backslappin’ (and in one scene, bum-pattin’) camaraderie and the movie’s parochial perspective doesn’t have the scope to explore complexities of war. But atmospherically the neophyte tag-team directors — who will soon be bringing Arnold Schwarzenegger back to the big screen, which is good news for Arnie fans — have created a heavy duty humdinger.

An itchy blanket of danger and exhilaration hangs over Act of Valour’s action scenes, which, modelled with video game aesthetics that whoosh from first to third person in a blur of throbbingly edited footage, are breathlessly intense. Imagine Tony Scott adapting a Call of Duty video game and you’re in roughly the right bomb-addled ball park.

Act of Valor depicts a series of incidents in which military intervention is justified and executed with sweaty professionalism — a sort of US Navy popcorn-n-coke counter to the fourth estate’s job in highlighting wartime atrocities and spotlighting troops when they do the wrong thing. It is surprisingly restrained in terms of rampant American flag-waving, McCoy and Waugh aware that ringing the bells of jingoism so blatantly would have been a sure-fire way to turn crowds off.

The protracted image of an emotionally numb SEAL’s face at the funeral of a friend who died on the field isn’t the stuff of yee-haw! propaganda. Yet the film needs to be viewed with the implied assumption that war isn’t quite what it’s made out to be here — that the world gets a lot trickier when the coin flips to the other side, and Act of Valour isn’t going to make that toss for you.

Most audiences couldn’t care less. They’ll want a powder keg of action exploded in their faces and they will get just that — plus a vivid if blinkered impression of sweat and blood splattered life on the roving modern battle field.

Act of Valor’s Australian theatrical release date: May 3, 2012. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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