In the fleeting digital age we live in, it often seems that the ‘novelty factor’ is the sure-fire key to success when it comes to Hollywood film production. Forget artistic integrity and complex storylines; newness and innovation are the things that get the media really excited.
Act of Valor, a suspense-led action thriller, where a team of US Navy SEAL officers embark on a mission to recover a kidnapped CIA operative, appears to abide by this notion. A glance at the film’s advertising campaign quickly conveys that the directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh have chosen ‘real-life’ Navy SEALs to play themselves. An approach, they argue, that is unprecedented in the history of action war movies.
The opportunity came about when the directors were filming a recruitment video for the Navy, where they filmed active-duty SEALs during their rigorous training programme. McCoy and Waugh were so impressed by their physical strength and expertise in the field of combat that they decided to embark on a project to make a modern day action movie about this elite force in action.
As the venture got underway, it soon transpired that the people who were most suited to play the parts were not from the corpus of Hollywood tough guys such as Vin Diesel, Jason Statham or Dwayne Johnson, but were the actual Navy SEALs that they met during the initial project.
The approach of casting people to play themselves in films isn’t anything new. For example, if we look back to the 1960s, we observe an inclination for this cinematic trope in the works of the iconic Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who would cast non-actors in prominent roles.
In the 2009 film, Fish Tank, lead actress Katie Jarvis was cast after one of the film’s agents saw her arguing with her boyfriend in a train station. According to the director, Jarvis’s personality embodied the brash and volatile character she had in mind to play the film’s central role.
What sets Act of Valor apart from these previous approaches to casting is undoubtedly the physical element. It is clear to see that only a rare number of people would have the fitness levels and aptitude to perform some of the tasks carried out in the film.
However, the emotional back story of each individual SEAL officer is also a central component of the film. While their physical proficiency cannot be disputed, the task of playing the part of caring father and husband is evidently too much for the central character Lieutenant Rourke.
Some of the dialogue between Rourke and his wife is so wooden that even the most forgiving of viewers would find it hard to be moved by these scenes.
Overall, the film holds together well and if you forgive the stilted acting, there’s a lot to hold your interest. The visuals are slightly over-polished, but in a way, this adds to the distinctive quality of the production. While it’s uncertain whether or not Act of Valor signifies a new direction for action movies, for now someone should tell Vin Diesel that he needn’t hang up his combat boots just yet.
Act of Valor is on general release from 24th February
Watch the trailer for Act of Valor here