“American Sniper” is based on the autobiography of the same name by Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. The film follows Kyle, dubbed the most lethal sniper in U.S. history with 160 confirmed kills, as he struggles to balance his duties on the battlefield with the ones at home. Bradley Cooper stars as Kyle, Sienna Miller plays his wife and Clint Eastwood directs.
Last January “Lone Survivor”, another true story about Navy SEALs, was released and it was an above-average, well-intentioned war film that had its fair share of miscues. “American Sniper” is right on par with “Survivor” as another real-life tale telling the story of some of the best and bravest men in the world, but it trips up along the way.
Clint Eastwood’s directorial filmography is really a tale of two types of films: engaging and interesting (“Gran Tornio”) or slow and mind-numbingly boring (“Hereafter”). His most recent film, last year’s “Jersey Boys” was a bit of both as the first half was great and the second half was Nyquil. “American Sniper” follows “Jersey Boys” because there are some parts that soar and are beautifully shot, but there are also some glaring narrative and pacing issues.
I know the story of Chris Kyle, and the man is a true American hero. Bradley Cooper does a very honorable portrayal of Kyle, playing a man who enlists in the SEALs because he wants to do something more with his life, but by the end of the film is questioning why he is doing what he is doing. Cooper essentially is playing two characters: badass super soldier and struggling husband.
The film does a good job showing Kyle in the early stages of his relationship with his wife, and by the end of the film how he has drifted apart because of the things he has seen and done in combat (despite him claiming his only regrets are the men he couldn’t save). Unlike most war films that are clearly pro-war or anti-war (or “Lone Survivor” which is accidently both), “American Sniper” walks the line quite delicately of what conflicts are actually worth getting into, and are they worth the lives of our soldiers?
One of the problems with the film, however, is how it handles the transitions between home and battle. The film opens up with Kyle sniping on an Iraq rooftop before abruptly cutting to a scene of him hunting as a child, as part of the obligatory “you’ve got a real knack for this sniping thing, kid!” moment. The rest of the film jumps back-and-forth between locations, sometimes without much explanation.
Sienna Miller does fine work as Kyle’s wife and she shares some tender scenes with Cooper, even if sometimes she is given nothing more than cliché “pregnant soldier wife” dialogue. The rest of the cast is solid, especially those portraying PTSD soldiers; however none of them are fleshed out or given too much to do.
“American Sniper” is a good-not-great movie that is a fitting tribute to its real-life subject, and features some well-shot battle sequences from Eastwood and some great scenes from Cooper. The film’s largest problem is its almost whiplash-inducing jumping to-and –from war scenes, as well as a frustrating ending that likely stems from the filmmakers not knowing how to properly handle the subject matter. Still, it is an enjoyable and at times tense and heart-breaking film about the horrors of warfare, and is one of the more honest war stories in recent years.
Critics Rating: 7/10