Trailers for Act of Valor ignored non-combat dialogue. There’s a reason for that: so does much of the film. For as much as promo materials adored touting the active duty Navy Seals being given screen time, the actual product does everything in its power to keep them quiet. Somber music presents a montage feel to family time. Narration dulls the story to simple imagery. Terrorists speak in their own tongues to introduce subtitles. It’s almost comical.
Those lines that are legitimately spoken? They’re painful, but not all of it falls in the laps of these non-actors. The non-militaristic banter is trying desperately trying to separate interchangeable faces in a stuffy time limit, so it has no choice to be anything other than forceful. One critical character doesn’t even have a name, listed as “LT Rorke’s Wife.” Act of Valor knows where its bread and butter is, deep in the globe trotting action.
Place it as something, something, terrorist and you’re more knowledgeable as to the story structure than the film itself. The piece is rife with authenticity, from live fire action to an intensity and tension that feels wholly genuine. There’s another side to that though, the filmmakers approached by the military to create this with a purpose, now interconnected with other media.
Act of Valor becomes less about honor -or valor- and more about driving its message into the heads of recruitment age teenagers. The camera loves to linger on first-person angles or overhead location maps, shots included not for their dramatic power as much as they are to mimic uber popular video game franchises. Despite the strive for authenticity, elements here are clearly being controlled and plotted by those who are all too aware of how to sell a lifestyle.
Still, being salvaged by the respect for what these men do isn’t such a bad thing for Act of Valor. Despite the cut-and-paste nature of current military media promotion, there is little doubt the Seals portraying what amounts to themselves in tightly choreographed action scenes lends the piece a unique credence. It’s a peek inside a life few would consider, along with the associated sacrifices. You have to respect that.
Act of Valor comes to life with the kitchen sink approach, utilizing a wide array of digital cameras and a dash of film to create a jumpy, inconsistent style. The look feels uncontrolled, refreshing in an era of reliance of over control in digital intermediates. Many of the abrasively noisy images give the piece a sense of realism, and shifting blacks forcing a further investment into the varied environments. Rarely does the film sit still and find a common ground between shots.
You’ll find a little of everything wrong with this source material, none of it immediately evident as a concern with Fox’s encode. The aliasing can be construed as a digital flub common to a lot of these productions. Much of the piece employs a softer focus, eschewing the tightly wound close-ups which drip high-fidelity detail. Act of Valor is more concerned with investment in the action that razor line images.
Viewers will probably pick out some banding from time to time, nighttime drops or underwater footage spilling over board with it. Some super halos against what could be stock footage or captured on a lower-end camera cannot be ignored either. On a normal day, this disc would not receive a pleasant response.
The reality is that look actually works. There are benefits to being in HD beyond the lack of compression too. Despite a lenient focus, the material does punch through with some pleasant definition, and colors in non-combat scenarios have vividness. Greens are especially saturated, certainly dominating during a few moments depicting night vision. So much has been done to ramp up the gritty nature and invest the viewer in an era of digital warfare, that the transfer works, albeit with an asterisk.
The DTS-HD audio mix attached to this disc almost immediately begins pushing big sound, bulky, bassy, and involving. A jump from a plane initiates the mixing, requesting the surrounds to depict hearty winds at altitude. Mere minutes later, bombs begin their assault with a superior burst of LFE energy, and then the material quiets down for some of its best stuff.
Trips through jungle areas and wetlands depicts active wildlife, birds, insects, etc. Ambiance is strong with this one. It has to be to make that shift into gunfire, which here carries some bite. Bullets are fired off on both ends of the audio spectrum, but in terms of mixing, match the environment. Exterior gun fights have a distinctly open style where the surrounds are less of a direct priority. Indoors, the echoes and pop of each shot is easier to detect or feel. The shift is unmistakable.
Explosions are always primed, Act of Valor containing no shortage of fire bursting booms to satisfy a wide audience. There’s a balance between elements that is held too, the forgettable score taking its lumps in the midst of action, although not so much that it’s lost. Critical combat dialogue is elevated to ensure it’s heard. Great stuff.
A commentary track is provided by directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh which is fine, although it’s a shame the Seals couldn’t provide their insight. Given their line of work however, it’s understood that idea is a loose possibility. McCoy and Waugh have a short intro where they discuss research and working the the team. Six deleted scenes are all dialogue driven (go figure), while seven interviews with the featured Seals is as close as you’ll get to personal on-set chatter.
Four promotional featurettes follow, including a making-of that isn’t detailed in any capacity. Clips of three minutes or less detail the live fire filming, the Seals, and a peek inside the actual job. A music video carries its own making-of, while the disc rounds off with trailers.
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