“American Sniper” (2014)

american_sniper_ver2_xlgAmerican Sniper (2014)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Running time: 132 minutes

This review could be really short, because while I am in two minds regarding Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, I feel this two-minute trailer really captured everything I like about it:

Now Showing this week is American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, and based upon the biography (true story, AGAIN) of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper), the man touted as the most lethal sniper in US history for his four tours in the Iraq war. The film follows Kyle’s experiences watching over his comrades through his rifle scope, as well as how these experiences affected him and his relationship with his family whenever he returned home. That’s really it in a nutshell.

See what I meant with the trailer? That section was so tense, pulse pounding and it so brilliantly encapsulated the uncertain elements of modern warfare. Granted, I’ve never fought in a war but I would be confident in saying real war situations are probably more like that and less like Call of Duty. These were the moments that American Sniper excelled at, the war scenes. The macho-ism, the comradery and the sheer stressfulness of their day to day battles were the film’s best points. These were just soldiers doing their jobs; it’s not their place to question the war they’re fighting but just to protect their own so they can live to fight another day.

Because of this, I can see where all the criticisms alleging the film is pro-war are coming from. Cooper’s Kyle is man suffering from a gigantic hero complex, stating “it’s the guys I could be saving” that haunts him, and he is just dripping with red-white-and-blue patriotism. The film even features him watching 9/11 happening and immediately wanting to go get ‘dem terrorists! He eventually ends up referring to Iraqis, not just the militants trying to kill him but the innocent civilians as well, as “savages”.

But I feel, with a little critical thinking, American Sniper is really all about what fighting wars costs, and whether you personally think it is worth it or not is completely up to you. Being led into a war-zone and told every “military aged” Iraqi left after evacuation was there to kill you would condition you to distrust them, to fear them, to hate them. The depiction of Kyle’s behaviour I feel says a lot about the affects of modern warfare beyond the political and more towards the personal, and raised interesting questions about the kinds of people needed to make an effective military.

I just wish the depth of questioning carried over into the scenes taking place in the US.

Everything in the sections involving Kyle’s home-life were just sub-par. The dialogue was wooden and rife with characters blandly stating how they feel, the relationship between Cooper and Sienna Miller (playing Kyle’s wife Taya) felt forced; it just undermined everything established during the combat sections. It took what could have been a great analysis of a modern soldier’s struggle in life down to just an average one. It really let the film down.

Wow, I guess this wasn’t a short one huh?

As I said in my intro, I’m in two minds when it comes to American Sniper. On the one hand I have an intense military story, featuring some brilliant moments of tension, excellent cinematography and the potential to ask some serious questions; and on the other hand I have a bland, poorly written couple drama breaking it up. What I’m left with is an ordinary film. The acting wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either, same with the writing and everything else. With so much criticism surrounding the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations (a debate for another time), I would say that American Sniper is the film that should be bumped off the lists.

It is by no means the worst film I’ve ever seen, not by a long shot; but nothing about it deserves the prefix of “Best”.

See you next time!

Want to hear more of Tom taking shots at movies and other things? Hear him guest featuring on The Popculturists’ Oscars coverage live on 94.7 The Pulse on Thursday nights. Also checkout Unnatural Selection, the weekly-ish news/comedy podcast Tom co-hosts with two other handsome misfits. 

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