This week we take a look at 6-time Oscar nominee American Sniper, directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood. Starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, this movie is rated-R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references.
American Sniper tells the true story of legendary sniper Chris Kyle (Cooper). Originally setting out to be a cowboy, Kyle realized that he wanted something bigger for himself and joined the SEALs to become a sniper. As a result, Kyle struggles to remain connected with his family and life back home while becoming a legend among veterans and soldiers alike.
9.0 out of 10
The war genre has seen a slight revival this year, represented by the good (Fury), the bad- well, bad is a harsh word- (Unbroken), and the ugly (The Monuments Men if you even remember that). But none of this year’s war films looked like they could truly stand their ground against the all time greats. That is, until American Sniper was released.
I saw this film after Oscar nominations were released and was kinda confounded that it was voted over Gone Girl and Nightcrawler, and that Bradley Cooper was voted in over Jake Gyllenhaal and David Oyelowo. But after actually seeing the film, I can see it (Those snubs are still pretty dumb). American Sniper is a riveting, memorable film filled to the brim with tension and emotion, anchored by Bradley Cooper at his best.
To put it out there, I was not aware of Chris Kyle’s story and how it ends, which apparently was national news back in 2013. As a result, I was really able to enjoy the intensity of this film that much more. And boy was it relevant. From the intensity of the music to the gripping cinematography, the film perfectly displays the grit and, at times, the solidarity of war. It didn’t take long for me to get emotionally invested simply because Eastwood’s direction perfectly developed Kyle’s journey, all the way from the beginning of his life. A lot of films are able to show the difficult conditions of war, but what American Sniper did was particularly incredible: war wasn’t difficult for him, being away from it was.
A lot of the criticism has been directed towards Eastwood’s glorifying of Kyle. Critics feel as though Kyle was actually an arrogant, racist psychopath but is inaccurately portrayed as the perfect American hero. To be honest, I was able to see that Kyle was a little off. He liked killing those opposite him, and that only added to the imperfection of his character. I didn’t feel like they were paving Kyle to be the perfect human being in any way. A hero, perhaps, but perfect? No, I don’t think so. The fact that he wasn’t a psychopath kept us into the movie. So maybe it isn’t the most ACCURATE film, but boy is it still good.
The fact that he’s not completely a psychopath is also important because the movie is literally all him. From beginning to end he is the driving force of this film. And the only reason that works is because Bradley Cooper is spectacular. Remember when he was acting in all those comedies? Yes Man, Wedding Crashers, The Hangover? Neither do I. He’s rattled off three straight Academy Award nominated performances in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and now this, which is, in my opinion, his best performance. Christian Bale certainly rubbed off on him, as seen through the physical transformation he went through. His dedication to this role was clear. He was passionate and stoic, like Kyle, but also had a lighter side that made him likable. Dare I say best performance of the year? It was definitely up there (perhaps losing out to only Keaton and Gyllenhaal).
The one gripe I had with this movie was that it focused so tightly on Kyle that it detracted from the rest of the film. Some of the other characters of the film were uninteresting because they played second fiddle to the legend of Chris Kyle. Even his wife, who Sienna Miller did a really solid job of portraying, was a little bit uninteresting as a character. I know this is his story- I get that. But it certainly doesn’t help when the characters around him pale in comparison to him. And while the whole storyline with opposing sniper Mustafa, which was apparently ridiculously overblown, was really entertaining, it definitely made the movie more about his personal accomplishments rather than the impact of war on an individual.
As I’ve said, there’s been a lot of criticism about American Sniper’s glorification of someone who really wasn’t that great a guy. So maybe it isn’t a perfect biopic, but it is a great movie. Ultimately, Clint Eastwood puts together a poignant, moving film that perfectly displays the horrors of war on the veterans who live through it. Supported by a brilliant Bradley Cooper performance, American Sniper hits the mark and is one of the best movies of the year.
Sniper has killed it at the box office, its fared well with critics and has been universally praised by audiences. Aside from the controversies mentioned earlier, it has probably earned its place alongside the best war movies of the past few decades. So who’s responsible for this success? Who drives the movie and manifests Eastwood’s directions? As much as I had to boil the success of a huge film like this to one person, I must give that honor to Mr. Bradley Cooper.
Cooper’s star is rising. The star, once known as “that guy from The Hangover”, has handled some heavy-hitting performances these past few years and damned if his role as the military Chris Kyle ain’t one of them. The challenging thing about portraying Kyle is that, in the best way possible, there isn’t too much to portray. Whereas last review’s subject had his outbursts and even tantrums, Kyle remains quiet. Not out of coldness but out of years of layering over his actual feelings on the pain he’s either suffered through or caused. That’s a welcomed change from the usual heroes Hollywood presents us that gush with feelings: real people rarely just leak out their emotions, especially those who’ve been through numerous tragedies. Cooper plays Kyle as a quiet man but with undercurrents of shakiness and an aura of uneasiness that tenses the audience. Silence is scary.
Here inlies, I believe, the number one issue many have with Sniper. The film very much trusts its audience to read Kyle and to fill in the blanks of his detached attitude. And, while Cooper does very well with this subtlety, that can be somewhat challenging considering the acts of violence that Kyle carries out in the film. As a result, that detached attitude, paired with Kyle’s incessant desire to assist his SEAL comrades, translates into stone-cold aggression to some. It’s easy to see how many could slip into this opinion but I do believe they’re missing the point.
Similar to The Hurt Locker, Sniper shows the dent that’s slammed into many ex-military men’s lives. This is hole widens and consumes plenty of veterans’ enjoyment of everyday activities. It’s a very challenging thing to portray, especially in a modern movie atmosphere that loves clear-cut arcs and black and white morality when it comes to war. When Kyle often itches to return to his role as a top sniper, its important to realize that the film is not sugarcoating his choices or depicting the relentless battle he fights in a positive way. Instead, it expects us to see how much violence has wrecked Kyle’s capacity for satisfaction with his life at home.
Aside from Kyle’s development and Cooper’s brilliant performance, the film does provide a very gritty vision of Iraq that helps to fuel the suspense of the film. The Iraq the film portrays is not the usual place for villains to be conquered and fables to be made; it’s a place thoroughly ridden with dangerous, unrelenting terrorists at all turns and citizens tragically caught in the crossfire. It’s obviously, not a nice place to be and it provides the perfect backdrop for Kyle’s development into both a tortured man and a savior to all Marines.
American Sniper’s a very good film that benefits from its strong direction, sturdy lead and sheer intensity. Once again, I can’t really predict its performance with the Academy this year since we’re all looking at a very tight competition but I would not be thrown off if Cooper won. It’s any man’s game and Sniper just may hit a few targets.
(Sorry, I couldn’t resist)