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February 24, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Film critics seem to be having difficulty getting a handle on Act of Valor — understandable given the fact that the movie reportedly started out as a training and recruitment film for Navy SEALs. It uses real-life SEALs in the cast, not professional actors — and some critics say that the lack of acting experience shows. In his review in the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert begins by praising it as “an accomplished, riveting action movie.” But he acknowledges that he had difficulty writing “the ordinary kind of review” because the film does not allow the audience to get to know the characters. “After the movie you’d find yourself describing events but not people,” he writes. “Act of Valor is gift-wrapped in patriotism. It was once intended as a recruitment film, and that’s how it plays.” Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe also remarks that there’s no Kenneth Branagh among the SEAL cast members. “Having the military play itself is propaganda on one hand, and simple efficiency on the other.” Even politically conservative New York Post critic Kyle Smith seems to find it hard to appraise the film — as a real motion picture. While remarking he finds it “refreshing … to see the military portrayed as something other than a band of neurotics and creeps,” he nevertheless observes, “It consorts with reality … yet it also wants to be G.I. Joe. Choosing one path or the other would have been wiser.” Claudia Puig in USA Today comments that using real-life troops as actors in the film “is a clever idea.” However, she notes, “The soldiers’ awkward line readings are glaring enough to distract from the potency of the story.” Betsy Sharkey in the Los Angeles Times also praises the action sequences in the film, but then adds: “Impressive as all this is, it can’t hide the fact that these total warriors can’t really act, a situation that may not matter in combat but has to be characterized as a drawback in a motion picture.”