After about a month since being in wide release, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has been one of the most hotly discussed films in recent memory. In the wake of its six Academy Award nominations, the film has divided many. Some call the film brilliant, and a harrowing and beautiful portrayal of a true American hero, while others say that the film is Hollywood propaganda that feels flat and not-so inspiring. No matter what you feel about the film, the response by some folks that don’t like it, and the measures that people would go to call out people who didn’t like the film, has been pretty stupid. I remember folks like Michael Moore and Seth Rogen got in trouble because of some off-the-cuff remarks, and lots of folks were shocked and outraged (a current fad that doesn’t seem to be going away in the country). Uh oh, it looks like I’m about to get on my soapbox, I probably should put that away. Anyways, I saw the hotly talked about film, and here’s my review of American Sniper.
Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle, the real life sniper who had the most confirmed kills of any solider in the history of the United States. The film is a biography of the late Kyle, who was unfortunately killed by an ex-marine outside of Dallas in 2013 (the trial for that ex-marine is currently going on down in Stephenville, Texas). Kyle is a kid from Odessa who decides to join the military and after 9/11 is deployed into Iraq and goes through four tours of duty. While he’s away, he has a wife, played by Sienna Miller, and two children, who are growing while their father is away. The film tries to become a character study of a man who has seen things that most human beings couldn’t even comprehend seeing, but it ends up falling flat on its face.
I know, I know, I guess I’m not a true American if I didn’t love American Sniper, or at least how that’s some folks will want you to think (I won’t point any fingers, say any names, because you know who you are). I’ll be honest, I think American Sniper kind-of sucked. It pains me to say that, because the story of Chris Kyle is an interesting one, and the fact that its Clint Eastwood, one of my favorite directors of all time, is behind the camera, with Bradley Cooper giving one of his best performances to date in the lead role. What the hell happened? A dull script, some pretty bad dialogue, and maybe a little too much of the flag waving mixed in with a rather generic and tasteless Hollywood feel to the film make American Sniper a pretty big disappointment, and a film that I’d go as far to say is one of Eastwood’s worst films.
Granted, I don’t have as much of a connection with Kyle as a lot of people do. All I knew about the guy up until his death is that he was a kid from Odessa who had killed a lot of people during the war, and devoted the rest of his life to helping out ex-military trying to transition back home after the war. That’s a pretty interesting guy for Hollywood to make a movie about, right? Well, yes, but they chose Clint Eastwood, a man whose made some really terrific but slow-paced films, direct this film. I’ll admit, for an 84 year-old filmmaker, a lot of the war sequences were pretty exciting, and there were a few scenes in the film that I thought were just brilliant. One was the opening scene in which Kyle has to decide if he should kill this kid with a grenade, and it was very well done. There’s a similar scene with a kid having a rocket launcher, and that was pretty good. But the action sequences lacked any sort of grit or realism. It felt very Hollywood-ized in the whole undertaking.
Steven Spielberg was originally going to direct the film before he left after creative differences with the film, and I think his take on this material would be far more interesting that what Eastwood has done with this film. I feel that Spielberg could’ve added a certain level or grittiness and realism that would have been akin to Saving Private Ryan, and would’ve made Kyle’s story a more compelling and investing two-plus hours. Eastwood has been known for years to be a very quick filmmaker, only taking a couple of takes per shot before moving on to the next scene. It’s worked for the best, and sometimes in the opposite direction. He began shooting American Sniper in April of 2014 and finished in early June, and was able to edit the film in time before year’s end. Since the production was rushed, you can notice some sequences that can’t be defended, and for the folks that have seen the film, you’ll know what I’m talking about. That damn baby. It didn’t quite bother me as much as I thought it would, but it was definitely distracting, and made you wonder if it would’ve killed Eastwood just to wait a day for a real baby in the scene.
As I mentioned before, Bradley Cooper is great in the film, and deserves the Oscar nomination that he received for the film. Granted, I wish that this was a better film, but at least we get a great performance from one of Hollywood’s great leading men working today. Cooper gained a lot of weight for the role of Kyle, and looks huge and a little unrecognizable in the role. You can tell that this was a passion project for Cooper, as he puts everything into this performance and into this movie (he was also a producer on the film). I just wished that there was another writer to come in as well as another filmmaker (Kathryn Bigelow isn’t doing much these days) to make this film. But to sum it up, American Sniper is a film that I really wanted to love, but I ended up kind-of hating it as I was trying to love it. The movie felt a little bit lazy in bringing Kyle’s story to the screen, which is a bit of a shame. But this film has really connected with a core group of people, and they love the film, and more power to them for loving it. I was just hoping for a film similar to The Hurt Locker that portrayed the war in a realistic manner, and challenged everything you ever thought of the war before and after viewing, but that’s just me.
The fact that this film is nominated over so many great films like Foxcatcher, Gone Girl, and many more worthy films is pretty embarrassing. I’ll be honest when I say that the best part of the film is when the credits began rolling, which is true if you let me explain. The credits show the funeral procession of Kyle’s body going up Interstate 35 in Texas to his memorial in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Its news footage of supporters on the side of the highway waving American flags and supporting Kyle. It was a beautifully done segment, and I gotta admit that watching that made me tear up a bit. It’s just a shame that American Sniper couldn’t have been as good as the credits.