Release: Friday, January 16, 2015
Written by: Jason Hall
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
In Dirty Harry’s return to slightly more confident filmmaking, Bradley Cooper is one bad man. I mean, his Chris Kyle is a good man, but a bad . . . ah, never mind.
The Odessa, Texas native is the center of attention in a biopic entrusted to one of the biggest names in the business, but somehow the math just doesn’t add up. Cooper may never have been better, Eastwood never more patriotic, yet American Sniper is a slog and somewhat this. Somehow, following along with Chris as he leaves his family on four separate occasions to go fight against insurgents in Iraq between 1999 and 2008 feels less inspired as it does repetitive. Eastwood’s style here may suit the subject but perhaps it’s the subject that doesn’t really lend itself to major blockbuster filmmaking. Why do I smell a missed opportunity for a heartbreaking documentary here?
There’s another issue at play, one that isn’t necessarily the film’s fault, but absolutely is worth mentioning. American Sniper falls victim to its trailer, a tense two minutes that can’t help but fess up to Eastwood’s most sincere depictions of the kind of pressure that rides on snipers as they determine whether or not to take that shot. I do understand it’s not really fair to judge the film proper on a particularly revealing piece of marketing; after all, one could theoretically ruin their Interstellar experience by watching those clips of Gargantua too many times. But it’s so easy to do just that here, even if there aren’t any black holes in the Middle East. Far be it from me to tell you how to consume your entertainment but if you’ve watched the trailer for American Sniper then you are privy to virtually as much information as those slapping down $10-12 for tickets at the box office.
Eastwood’s directorial touch doesn’t help matters as he provides only a cursory look into the domestic life of an increasingly despondent soldier. A thoroughly masculine figure to begin with, Chris’s former life as a cowboy is halted abruptly by his interest in contributing muscle to the American cause after seeing a story about recent terrorist activity in the Middle East on T.V. He is motivated to the point of signing up for the Navy SEALs, though he is initially rejected. Some indeterminate time later he comes across a gorgeous brunette at a bar. Jason Hall’s script affords a modicum of humanity to this soon-to-be relationship, a level that is somewhat respectable. Sienna Miller would be compelling as housewife Taya but the switching back and forth between Chris’s duties in Iraq and her location in sunny Texas leaves a lot to be desired.
What’s more concerning is that Eastwood’s lazy construction makes mundane the soldier’s return(s) to Iraq. Aside from what’s easily observable — the escalation of violence during each subsequent visit, and the fact that a bounty is put on the head of the most deadly sniper in American history — Tour One looks just like Tour Four. Perhaps that’s how it really is. I have never served; I cannot talk at any great length about that. And I want to be careful in describing how I feel about these sequences as I don’t want to give the impression I don’t respect what multiple tours mean to those who have undergone them. From strictly a creative standpoint, American Sniper wears out its welcome and begins firing blanks much too soon.
Scenes built entirely out of fist-clenching tension, however, do not wear out theirs. And as a corollary, the violence Chris is perpetually surrounded by — and that which understandably upsets Taya the most — is an element Eastwood appears comfortable handling. I guess such is his duty. Reduced in intensity as they may be thanks to the trailers, the hair-raising shoot outs play a large part in defining Chris as a sniper, as a soldier, as a human being. More importantly it gives the film’s version of Chris an obstacle to get over, an enemy if there ever were one. Widely regarded as the “legend” of the Iraq War, his estimated 160 kills via sniping from obscure rooftops function in the film as not simply a plot device but this character’s responsibility to country and to his fellow soldiers. The film does a wonderful job of emphasizing the sniper’s compassion in a time and place where such a quality is rare if existent at all.
It’s the kind of reverence you can easily tie in with Eastwood’s emphasis on fatherhood and the paternal instinct, both evident in his prolific career as a filmmaker in both acting and directorial capacities. It doesn’t factor into American Sniper as much, though the opening scenes featuring Chris with his father together hunting deer in a forest tinged golden from the low angles of the sun’s rays suggest he is still concerned about constructing a layered character study. It’s yet another interesting angle overshadowed by the director’s predilection for predictable story structure.
There’s nothing offensive about the way Clint Eastwood, himself a legend, has put this story together. American Sniper is just not the most interesting version that could have been told, nor is it the most original. Like Sienna Miller in that black nightgown of hers, we wish we could have been shown more. The more testosterone-filled among us anyway.
Recommendation: Clint Eastwood wears his patriotism on his sleeves and Brad Cooper wears Extra-Large in American Sniper, a very average war film centered around a not-so-average American finding his life’s calling. Between Cooper’s dedication to his character and Eastwood’s devotion to exemplifying courage and obsession in equal measure, the film is not something you should miss if you have served any amount of time overseas (or at home — just not in prison, of course). For everyone else, this is going to be one of the best uses of Redbox/Netflix you’ll have in a while.
Running Time: 132 mins.
Quoted: “I’m ready. I’m ready to come home. I’m ready to come home, baby!”
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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com
Correction: Chris Kyle was a Navy SEAL. Navy personnel are referred to as sailors, not soldiers. I disagree with your review but it is well written and a good presentation of your opinion otherwise.
Given that I was never in the Armed forces, I would never have known that. Thanks for the clarification.
And you’ll actually notice in the photo I include here, I refer to Christopher Kyle as a Navy SEAL, so I’m not sure what you’re talking about.
Hey Tom! You bring up some interesting points. I’ve read so many reviews on this film, ranging from great to horrible. Truly, I would probably error on the “great end” over the “horrible.” I enjoyed it a lot, although I’d agree it’s not a perfect movie. But it’s Bradley Cooper’s performance I just can’t get over . . . it’s so good.
Yeah Brad’s pretty solid isn’t he? Thanks Kristen! 🙂
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Nice review Tom –
I saw this one one on the Friday it opened across the country. I gave it a four out of five, which is a good rating, and I recommended it. But as you’ve said – there are some reservations about it.
Yet the box office is spinning so fast – as the money flows in – virtually dwarfing the box office for the very fine Selma.
My real take away is that whatever this film lacks in plot complexity or story telling, many folks will see it – and will come out of the theater without regrets about having bought their tickets. Folks like us, we buy our tickets and we write about the films – may be a large community here at wordpress – but there is a far larger community of film goers who decide to see a movie based on tv ads and newspaper adverts.
Clint may not have delivered his best work in American Sniper – but quite like – this will be his best box office as a director.
Yeah for sure. I just didn’t get much out of it I guess as I had hoped. Nice to meet you Mike, thanks for coming by my blog and leaving a thoughtful comment. 🙂
I liked it fine, Eastwood’s best in years, but it didn’t say anything new. I’m kind of amazed this will ultimately become the #1 hit of 2014. Bradley cooper was really good though.
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Exactly, nothing new was said here. And I found myself pretty bored with its structure. Obviously there wasn’t much Eastwood could do to get around that. I just don’t understand the insane hype surrounding this.
Great review, Tom. I have a feeling my reaction to this would be almost exactly the same. I keep hearing from everyone and their mother what a great film this is, but I just can’t get excited about it. I’m half-tempted to see it simply because I like Cooper, but…I don’t really do war movies. Like, almost at all. So it’s nice to know I won’t be missing a whole lot. Haha.
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“American Sniper’ continues to sell out matinee showings around here. It’s been an incredibly successful financial thing, which is clearly an indication that Eastwood and the studio have done an excellent job pumping up the hype and the marketing for it. The film is good. It really is, and Cooper is square in the cross-hairs of being selected as 2015’s next Best Actor. I don’t personally think he’s going to win that, but I’ve come around on that part at least since writing this. He is outstanding here.
What I’m more concerned about is the fact that the story here wears out its welcome so quickly. We go to Iraq, come back to the US, re-deploy to Iraq; back to the US; etc etc and while all this is happening. . . .I was getting kind of bored. That. . . that shouldn’t happen. 🙂
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Yeahhhh boredom should never be a factor for something like this. Even though I haven’t seen American Sniper, I can’t help drawing parallels between this and The Hurt Locker, but from what I’ve heard The Hurt Locker just seems…better. Lol. More gripping. That’s another one of those rare war films I like. And Bridge on the River Kwai. Gotta love some Bridge on the River Kwai. 🙂
You argued this better than I did Tom, although we come to very similar conclusions. I thought some of the action scenes were very impressively handled, but it simply doesn’t know what it wants to be. War. What is it good for? Not this unfortunately.
Yessir, me too. Action scenes quite competent but as a truly original story this could have been, should have been stronger. Although I’m finding myself more empathetic now to the film b/c it does do a good job of straying away from a purely war-centered film, and does give at least some sort of a biopic element to it. Still though, I dunno.
Just something missing. 🙂
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Nice write-up. I’m with you. There is some good action but Chris Kyle’s real story outside the warzone isn’t shown at all which I didn’t like. Not the best type of person to be labelled a ‘legend’ or ‘hero’ IMO.
I certainly have no problem labeling him the ‘legend’ that they referred to him as, that guy is a beast with a sniper rifle. Really incredible stuff, and I did appreciate the battle sequences a lot in this. Eastwood did a great job in that respect. The narrative just felt very lazy and kind of stale. And it was too hard to fully empathize with the family that only got like 4 – 5 minute clips in between half hour segments focused on his tours of Iraq.
Thanks Jordan. btw check your email soon. I’ve responded to your BSR thing! As you recall, I do two of those a month so it’s something that’s always going on honestly.
Sent you an email back bud 🙂
My problem with labelling him a legend is… what kind of person brags about the amount of people he has killed? Also going by the book, this movie couldn’t have depicted Chris Kyle in a more inaccurate way. Even the enemy sniper is a fabrication.
Plus this is a guy who “wished he killed more”, making the shots where he grimaces after a kill a tad unbelievable. Legend? Sounds like a psychopath to me.
The action set pieces in this movie are some of the best I have ever seen, no question. But the distortion of reality is something i find troubling. Its borderline-propaganda, and I hate using that ‘p’ word but the movie is essentially making a hero out of someone because he killed more people than anyone else. Seems a tad wrong to me. Whether this detracts from the quality of the film is I guess a personal thing.
Great review Tom! I wonder how this film would have turned out if it was made by another director. I mean Eastwood made a good film here and I liked it, it just felt like it was missing something.
Yeah, who knows what it would have been like. I don’t mean to suggest this is a bad quality film. It’s not at all. I didn’t connect with at an insanely deep level like quite clearly many people have! Haha. Oh well, they can’t all be winners. 🙂
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Man, talk about a variety of opinion. It seems that reactions to this film are all over the place. I figured it would do well at the box office but $90 million??? Dang.
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Yeah, I just couldn’t get into this one.