Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Jason Hall; based on the book by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, James Defelice
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
I completely underestimated how many people wanted to see American Sniper. Last Saturday I casually strolled into the theater and was met by a ‘sold out’ sign for the screening I was trying to go to. What? Since my initial bewilderment I have realized the this film has appealed to a vast audience by crossing genres, gender appeal, political affiliations, etc. This was a strong recipe for an above average movie that would do exceptionally well at the box office, especially for a lazy January weekend.
American Sniper stars Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in recorded U.S. history, and his several tours in Iraq. The story touches on Chris Kyle’s relationships, his family, his dedication and borderline obsession with serving overseas, and the psychological toll it takes on Kyle and those close to him. This is a story about Chris Kyle and his experience with war. This is not a commentary on the American presence in the Middle East, I didn’t find it to be a glorification of battle, or an overt demonization of the ‘enemy’. American Sniper wasn’t a masterpiece but it delivered what was promised: a story about a man’s life, the way that he experienced it.
My favorite part about this movie was definitely Bradley Cooper. He delivered a solid, consistent performance that seemed to be truthful and respectful to the legacy of the real life Chris Kyle. The range of emotions that he is able to deliver so organically is astounding. This is a much quieter performance than we’ve seen from him lately; it could not be further from his last Oscar nominated performance in American Hustle. I was also impressed with Sienna Miller who played Taya, Chris’s wife.
That being said, the construction of the plot was a little sloppy at times. There are several instances in which I found myself questioning the likelihood of what was happening on the screen. At one point during intense gun fire Kyle picks up his phone and calls his wife…in the middle of battle. I’m far from an expert on military protocol, but the writers and directors should expect that from their average audience; if my doubtfulness had been anticipated and addressed, I would have a very different opinion on the way those scenes played out.
I was hoping I could omit this next criticism but it was so distracting: the fake baby. Mr. Eastwood, wtf!? There are a few scenes in which Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller are holding an what is clearly a fake baby. Because Hollywood has such stringent infant labor laws (as they should) this use of a doll is not unusual for shots in which the child is asleep and their face is obstructed from view. In one scene Chris and Taya are discussing his leaving for another tour in Iraq and Taya is expressing her concern for his absenteeism in their children’s’ lives; it should have been a tender, stirring moment but all I could focus on was the American Girl doll that both actors were trying so desperately to make lifelike. This decision not to re-shoot or re-stage this robbed the audience of a powerful scene.
American Sniper put such valiant effort into appealing to both action and drama audiences that I question if it was able to satisfy either. Those seeing the movie for battle scenes and action may be disappointed in the way that his time in Iraq seems to speed by. Those of us attending with more interest in the drama and human relations piece of this story may feel cheated by an emotional scene that was cut short or a moment of intense sorrow that has not yet been earned. Ultimately, I found that the human element of this story worked; it was honest and organically delivered. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller were the key factors in the success of those scenes; I’m not sure that lesser actors would have been able to pull off what they did within the constraints of the story told in the screenplay.
Final Verdict: At heart American Sniper is a story that’s never been told but in a way that’s been told a million times over. Movies like Jarhead and The Hurt Locker have taught us that films about modern warfare can be done from a unique, interesting perspective. Even though American Sniper doesn’t achieve what those films were able to it’s still a movie well worth your time and serves as a lovely memorial to Chris Kyle and veterans alike.
Awards Prospects: American Sniper is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing for the Oscars. I’m actually a bit surprised that Sienna Miller hasn’t gotten any recognition for her performance. I would say she is just as good (if not slightly better) than the other women who are nominated in that category. I am baffled that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association failed to recognize American Sniper at all when it came to the Golden Globes. There’s not a lot of overlap between the HFPA and the Academy voters so, it’s really not that unusual that American Sniper was all over the Oscar nominations and barely a whisper at the Golden Globes, but this has ‘awards bait’ written all over it.
Fun fact: this is Bradley Cooper’s third consecutive year as an Oscar nominee.