Filmmakers have a lot in common with magicians. The history of cinema is a long story of technology and style seeking to dazzle one generation more than the one before it. Audiences get savvy and need to be fooled by something else. Styles need to change to produce a new product and express a "modern" vision. Currently, the found footage style is an ironic continuation of the march of progress. By mimicking amateur video skills and technology, the found footage filmmaker seeks to make the film more real and accessible to an audience used to this kind of careless photography.
This isn't a new idea, of course, cinema verite inspired shaky handheld camera work for decades. Found footage also offers a great budget short cut for indie filmmakers, as it excuses them from the professional look that can eat up so much money. Smaller and better cameras now make it possible to capture points-of-view (POV) shots nearly impossible in the past. Rather than imitating the camera's eye of the action, this kind of camera work simulates sight itself. Movies have crept closer to video games, and some filmmakers have made a bet that looking down the barrel of a gun will make the action even more immersive. The creators of Act of Valor wanted the audience to see a firefight through the eyes of a Navy SEAL, not just as a SEAL might see the fight, but as a real SEAL would see the fight through his goggles and his gun sight.
In this film, the assassination of a CIA station chief sends the SEALs on a global game of cat-and-mouse, first with drug dealers and finally with international terrorists. These troops are assigned mission after mission to end what is becoming a larger threat. As important as these missions are, it's clear that supporting each other on and off the battlefield is at the heart of what these characters do.
Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh wanted to make a war movie after working with the Navy to create a training film. This access gave them the idea to use real SEALs instead of relying on actors to approximate the elite special operations force, not as advisors, but as actual performers. The basic idea is not original, as R. Lee Ermey was a real marine drill sergeant before Full Metal Jacket gave him a new career. Kirk Douglas served in the Pacific Theater of WW 2, and don't forget Audie Murphy played himself in the movie adaptation of his book To Hell and Back.
As tempting as it is to think that experience equals the ability to create a simulation of that experience, it is by no means an immutable law. Jean-Claude Van Damme was a good fighter, once upon a time, but that doesn't mean his films are any better for it. There are many more examples. Oscars go to people making movies that really affect us; it's not an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, Act of Valor misses the outer ring of that target by a few yards. Nothing about this film would make you think it might get an Oscar, of course, but it isn't even a very good action or war movie.