* a pretty long disclaimer. you may skip ahead if you like…
Before I start, I would like to tell you guys (at least for those stumbling upon this site for the very first time) that I am a Filipino. My mother was born in San Miguel, Bulacan; and my father in Angono, Rizal. I was born in San Juan, Metro Manila, thus being a full-blooded Tagalog. And I’ve been living in the Philippines for the past 25 years.
Some members of the Filipino community (Stateside I think) have found this film, Act of Valor, to be really insensitive to the portrayal of Filipinos in this movie. Now (consider this as a SPOILER ALERT) the Filipinos in this picture were portrayed as jihadists, as suicide bombers, hired by some Chechen who for some reason really hates the United States. The plan is to blow sh*t up, thank you very much, because F*ck Imperial America. The offended Filipinos said that the portrayal of my countrymen in this film would pretty much hurt the Filipino image, most especially those who plan to enter the United States.
Now, as a Filipino, I personally do not mind this portrayal of my countrymen. In fact, I find it interesting and pretty bad-ass that Filipinos seem to be getting more exposure in Hollywood these days. Additionally, I would say that now I am more proud to be one simply because the Yanks now consider us monkeys from the Pearl of the Orient as a threat to be reckoned with (I don’t know if this makes sense, but what the hell). Take note, however, that my issues with this film go beyond the “racial stereotyping”. I love movies. I love entertaining movies. I most especially love well made entertaining movies. Even if the film’s storyline is dumb to begin with, as long as the craftsmanship is good, that’s good enough for me. I am not swayed by any underlying polical or moral dimensions (unless it becomes way too distracting), so if ever I end up giving a low review for this film, it isn’t because Filipinos are bad in this film: it’ll be because this IS a badly made film.
And now for Act of Valor. This film is probably the closest we can ever get to a Call of Duty movie. The elements are all there: good American military people, bad terrorists with bad accents, lots of sweet military hardware, FPS-style cinematography, and explosions which would make Michael Bay cream his pants (well, not exactly, but it’ll still give him a boner). Now, some of you might have issues with the overly simplistic and pro-American storyline (and the negative portrayal of the non-Americans), but believe me when I say that those complaints are unfounded and irrelevant. But first, let us start with…
I think the film’s promotional material made it clear from the beginning who its target audience is. This film is for military enthusiasts, geardoes, action junkies, and patriots. The action sequences of this film are some of the best since Black Hawk Down. The amount of military hardware in this film (though few for those expecting Michael Bay-ish pron shots) are portrayed in a more plausible way. The SEAL Team insertions, combat tactics, and etc. are all portrayed with much attention to realism as possible. In short, this is definitely Call of Duty the Movie (minus the ridiculous storylines the series has been spewing out recently).
While I have to admit that the story’s nothing new, it more than works for a film which aims to highlight just how bad-ass the SEALs are. Of course, we have the usual tropes of a soldier with a baby on the way in order for us to sympathize with the character. I didn’t mind that. That’s all you need to know about the character. In short, while criminally predictable, this is a film with a solid plot which doesn’t distract us from the main highlights of the film (American bad-assery).
While it was an interesting premise to use actual Navy SEALs in this film, the execution of it wasn’t flawless. Sure, the portrayal of their combat tactics were spot-on (hence the choice for Navy SEALs), but still, this is a film. They were trying to paint an illusion for us. And, unfortunately, the illusion is nearly shattered with their awkward (though not cringeworthy) acting. Don’t worry, the acting isn’t all that bad: t’s just that the SEALs’ limitations in acting pop up at the most inopportune times (namely the character development scenes).
Additionally, while the initial wow factor of the action sequences definitely packs a punch, it starts to sizzle out by the final shoot-out in the third act. The opening rescue mission had a UAV, two mini-gun armed gunboats, snipers, and some bad-ass SEALs. The second shoot-out had tactical positioning, helicopter gunships gunning Filipino terrorists down, and some bad-ass SEALs. The final shoot-out just had, well, bad-ass SEALs. What I’m saying is that they seemed to run-out of some pretty cool ideas for the final shoot-out that they elected to do a standard shoot ’em up. Don’t get me wrong, it was still pretty exciting. However, placed next to two really cool action set-pieces, the last one kinda fell short.
Finally (and this is where my being a Filipino has to be allowed to rant), while I said that the negative portrayal of the Filipinos wasn’t a big problem for me, the spoken dialogue was. I’m sure this wasn’t a big problem for non-Filipinos but the Tagalog dialogue in most scenes here were really, and I mean, really distracting. It wasn’t that they spoke in a really bad accent: they spoke lines which most Filipinos wouldn’t even say. I’m guessing the translators made the translators a bit too literal in some parts that it actually made me laugh in some parts. And don’t even get me started when the main baddie speaks to his suicide bombers in Filipino: fine his character’s an Eastern European, not a native speaker, but for goodness sake his accent was so laughably bad!
This film knew what it set out to do, and it knew its target audience. It set out to give a realistic and a favorable portrayal of the American Armed Forces, and they did so decently enough. While this storyline is nothing new, the plot was solid. The filmmaking was well done, though the choice to use authentic Navy SEALs wasn’t executed properly enough in the more dramatic portions of the film.
Overall, this is a decent action film, and possibly one of the better portrayals of American soldiers on cinema since Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers.
Recommended, but not for everyone.
3.5 stars out of 5.