Review by Gene
Few movies in this years crop of Oscar nominees have generated the strong opinions that American Sniper has. From tree-hugging liberals bent on demonizing the war in Iraq, to gun-toting conservatives because, ‘Merica! But is it deserving of all the attention?
American Sniper has reached a level of box-office success not seen by many best picture nominees in recent years. So if you haven’t seen it by now you’ve still likely heard a good deal about it. Clint Eastwood directs this biopic about Chris Kyle, credited as being the most lethal sniper in U.S. Military history with over 160 confirmed kills. There are moments in the film where Kyle is somewhat callous about all the people he has killed. In a meeting with a psychiatrist Kyle says, “I’m willing to meet my Creator and answer for every shot that I took.” Yet there are other, more intimate moments, when he has someone in his sights and we see the stress and the turmoil in his face. Throughout the entire film, Eastwood’s direction and Cooper’s acting did a wonderful job of playing to all sides of this emotionally and politically charged story. From opinions on the war itself, to decisions to pull the trigger. For that, it’s difficult to place this film squarely in one camp or another. So we find it telling a very human story, giving sufficient breath to all dilemmas while never coming fully to rest on one side or the other.
The great majority of the films takes place during and between Kyle’s four tours of service in Iraq. There are a couple short scenes to begin the film, establishing Kyle’s driving motivation as a protector, or a sheep-dog as his father explains to he and his younger brother. It is this drive to protect others that motivates him to enlist and serve in an elite division of the military. This protective instinct is an admiral trait, but it can be misplaced at times. Think of Peter as the Roman soldiers came for Jesus. He cut off a soldiers’ ear out of a protective instinct for the Lord, and was rebuked for it. For Chris Kyle, this protective instinct is also what pulls him away from his family. This film does as good a job as any I’ve seen at depicting the family struggle of those in our armed forces. And honestly, I would’ve rather seen more time spent in that ‘world’ than in the streets and on the rooftops of Iraq.
Kyle’s wife, Taya, is played by Sienna Miller. She does a fine job of owning this struggle of sharing her husband with the armed forces. Indeed, it is a battle all her own, that she fights alone. Save for one of the final scenes, which I’ll talk about shortly, the dialogue between her and Cooper is terrific. So often we see Taya rightfully emoting to Chris what she’s going through and how she sees him being changed by this war, and so often we see Chris just internalizing all that. It makes for great conflict between two people who love each other. I was far more interested in that dynamic than in Kyle piling up the kills. But alas, you can’t have the former without the latter.
I was expecting to be blown away by this film after all the acclaim I was reading. I’m a sucker for war movies, and while I do like it, I was left feeling like some parts were either rushed or incomplete. Much has been said already about the fake baby used in a handful of scenes, so I won’t harp on that. The beginning of the film shows a strong connection between he and his brother, but after an awkward encounter with him during one of Chris’s tours, we never hear from him again. There is a “bullet-speed” moment like something out of The Matrix that, while surely intended to add drama to that shot in particular, just runs contrary to the visual standard of the rest of the film. Finally, the last scene with Chris and his family, where he is finally adjusted and acting like any father or husband might act, ends up with poorly constructed dialogue describing the fact of his adjustment to us, when it has already been shown.
My Rating: 4/5
I really teetered between a 3.5 and a 4. I haven’t said much about Bradley Cooper’s performance here, but after considering that and his ownership of the mentality and mannerisms of Chris Kyle, he raises this film up a notch for me. I will say this probably isn’t going to reach my top 10 favorite war films, and had it been widely released in 2014 I would say it wasn’t even the best war film of that year, as I believe Fury is superior. If it’s anything it is thought-provoking. There will be moments your heart is tugging you in one direction, but your brain is pulling you the other. When it strikes those cords it is at its best.