I love Clint Eastwood, but I can admit that he hasn’t exactly been on top of his game lately. After the greatness that was Gran Torino, the legendary actor/director hasn’t had that much success, at least critically (I’ll give you Invictus, that was actually pretty great, but Hereafter, J. Edgar and Jersey Boys all kinda sucked).
His latest movie is American Sniper, the story of the late, much-celebrated sniper Chris Kyle, someone who has been quoted as saying that “[he] would like to shoot people with Korans”. In terms of avoiding political controversy, this was probably not the way to go.
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Produced by: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper, Peter Morgan
Written by: Jason Hall
Based on: American Sniper by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwan and Jim DeFelice
Genre: Biographical war drama
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Fake Baby
Plot: Searching for a higher calling outside of his lucrative career as a rodeo cowboy, Texan Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), seemingly finds his divine purpose when he is horrified by the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya. Enlisting in the army and eventually becoming a Navy SEAL, he shows a considerable amount of ability as a sniper. He is shipped off to Iraq after 9/11 (Because…Reasons…) and becomes the deadliest sniper in American military history, killing upwards of 160 enemy combatants. However, killing that enormous amount of people doesn’t normally result in a sound mental state, and sure enough, Kyle’s military career, and the resulting PTSD symptoms start affecting his relationships with his wife (Sienna Miller).
Look, this is a super controversial movie, and there is absolutely no getting around that. I’d be remiss to not go into at least some of the controversy surrounding this movie. That said, even considering the divisive nature of the film, it’s fairly easy to forget that, in a lot of respects, this is a super well made movie.
I fully admit that I went into this movie not expecting to like it and yeah, I kind of didn’t, but even I’ll admit that this movie shows a lot of potential. The cinematography looks like that of your standard Iraq War movie, which is appropriate considering, y’know, that the movie’s about the damn Iraq War. It also sounds terrific, as is par for the course with a lot of war movies, and is most likely going to win some sort of Oscar for sound editing or sound mixing, or whatever (I still don’t understand the difference between those two, frankly).
The sound and atmosphere really help contribute to this super intense atmosphere that Eastwood has always done a very good job of creating. You don’t exactly expect a lax atmosphere from a movie in which a small child is being aimed at through the crosshairs of a sniper rifle, at one point. Eastwood’s technically skilled direction takes the inherent intensity that comes with a movie like this and multiplies it twentyfold. It’s a flawed movie, but it was never boring, and in the end, that may do it for some people.
Something else that I would have be a complete idiot to skip over without praising is Bradley Cooper. Now, I am a Bradley Cooper fan, let’s get that straight. The first movie I ever saw him in was The Hangover, and if you would have told me way back in 2009 that he would go on to be nominated for three consecutive Academy Awards (As well as voice Rocket Racoon) after that (Brilliantly hilarious) movie, I probably would have laughed in your face. And then shot you in the kneecap. I was a pretty hardcore 12-year old.
If he does win the Oscar, I’ll still be pissed off, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that his performance is pretty outstanding. From the 100% authentic sounding accent that one would swear had been lifted off of a bona-fide god-fearing Texan without having warped it into something stereotypical and cartoonish.
All around, Cooper sells Chris Kyle as a likable, humble human being. You know, when he isn’t referring to the Iraqis as “savages”, but more on that later.
The action in American Sniper is also very good, as one would expect from a Clint Eastwood movie. It kind of ties into that “intensity” crap I was rambling about earlier. However, this is where some of the flaws in the movie start rearing their ugly heads. See, while the action scenes are very well done, it kinda looks like somebody drew the line for the budget at realistic-looking blood. Instead of that, they used the shitty, cartoony looking CGI blood that one would expect from Kick-Ass, or something.
Yeah, it worked in Kick-Ass, but in a movie that’s supposed to be gritty and ultra-realistic, CGI blood is super distracting. In fact, it kind of fucking sucks. What the hell, Clint!?
Also, while the actors do genuinely good jobs, with the obvious highlight being Cooper, the characters that weren’t Chris Kyle are either insultingly given the shaft in terms of character insight (*Cough* Sienna Miller *cough) or are really underdeveloped. Kyle’s fellow soldiers definitely fall into the latter category. At no point did I really feel any genuine camaraderie between them and the main character. I mean, I get that they were supposed to be friends, but it doesn’t spend enough time showing them just hanging out with each other and forming genuine connections. For all its flaws, the movie feels very brisk, I wouldn’t have minded a couple more scenes of Kyle socializing with his comrades.
I guess we get some semblance of a connection when we see Chris’s reaction to them getting shot in the face. Not the worst, I suppose, but it could have been handled a lot better.
Also, there’s supposed to be a rivalry of sorts between Chris and some Iraqi sniper. It’s really dumb.
If only my complaints would end there. If fucking only.
So, American Sniper is not really an anti-war film, but it, for all the accusations of jingoistic nationalism thrown at it, is not really a pro-war film either, or al least tries not to be. That’s a pretty sound creative decision, considering the film is supposed to be a character study of Chris Kyle. So, how does it stack up as a character piece?
In that respect, it is a complete and utter fucking failure.
I’m pretty sure you’re getting sick and tired of hearing this, as his criticism has been bandied about plenty since the film’s release, but Chris Kyle was an objectively bad person, as the quote I mentioned in the intro would suggest. How exactly does one hear one of his many quotes mentioning his liking for killing Iraqis (Just look it up, it’s not exactly tough to find) and try to give off the illusion that this is essentially a good guy we’re dealing with? I would expect this from somebody who has maybe only heard about him in passing as a war hero, but not from a motherfucking biography of the man!!!
Yeah, he does call the Iraqis “savages” at a couple points, but he’s portrayed as a good guy so often that to hear him casually dehumanize an entire country is rather disturbing and out of place (It wouldn’t have been if they’d have decided to, I dunno, show Chris Kyle for the person he was instead of the flawed anti-hero bullshit they came up with. You could make the argument that he saved a lot of lives, but a) So did the enemy sniper, but that doesn’t make him any less of a hateful character, and b) that still doesn’t excuse such a cleaned-up version of what could’ve been a very interesting character. It doesn’t totally ruin the movie, but it does deal some pretty serious blows to its credibility.
Overall: There are worse war movies out there, but that doesn’t make this ultimately wasted attempt any more of a letdown.
If you guys want to read a shorter, less profane review of American Sniper, head over to fellow WordPresser Polar Bears Watch TV where he (She?) delivers a pretty great review in about 1000 less words.