Movie Review - American Sniper (2014)

This film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Writing, Best Editing, Best Actor and Best Picture. I disagree with all those nominations. This film feels like an expansion and reiteration of previous Best Picture-winner The Hurt Locker (2009). Here, in the hands of producer-director Clint Eastwood, it's derivative and stale. Three-time, consecutive, Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper bulks up and is a swollen, muscular and massive beefcake with a Southern accent, but all that extra weight drags him down, as he's certainly not as nimble as he was in American Hustle or even Silver Linings Playbook. Being less limber and sluggish might be accurate to the real-life person he portrays, but it also dims and tires his performance.

The editing as the politics is jarring in this film, jarring to its detriment. There is a scene where we see Chris Kyle, the real-life Navy Seal, played by Bradley Cooper, all shirtless and buff, watching CNN on September 11, 2001, as the World Trade Center is destroyed. It is a scene that has been depicted in countless films in the 13 years since September 11, so Eastwood's scene is hackneyed. However, the movie cuts from that scene to Chris Kyle in Iraq serving his first tour of duty, and it's jarring.

It's jarring for two reasons. For one, it makes the connection that 9/11 was a motivating factor for him serving his first tour when the movie had already shown him join the Navy Seals, as a result of a terrorist attack prior to 9/11, so the edit was unnecessary. For two, it makes the connection, the wrong connection, as the Bush administration did, that the war in Iraq was a logical next step from 9/11. Eastwood cuts from Chris Kyle watching 9/11 to then fighting in Iraq, which is a proven non-sequitur.

9/11 was the result of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Both of those were traced to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Iraq and its dictator Saddam Hussein was a totally separate thing. For Eastwood to cut the two together directly and immediately, again was jarring.

The screenplay by Jason Hall sets up an adversarial situation in Iraq that pits Chris Kyle who is a popular and very skilled sniper against a terrorist equivalent, a former Olympian from Syria named Mustafa, played by Sammy Sheik. The film shows Mustafa alone and prepping for his sniper attacks, but the film never gives him any lines of dialogue beyond a couple of quick phone calls that alert him to where Chris Kyle is. With no dialogue, or much of anything else, we never get to know who this guy is other than he's Chris' evil counterpart.

It's a wasted use of a parallel relationship. Yet, this film wastes other parallels as well. For the majority of the film, Chris lies very still in a high up location, often on top of a roof or in a bedroom, and shoots his rifle all day long at potential and verified threats to other soldiers in the area. His first kill is actually a child and his mother. The script has it made clear that each of his kills are justified.

There's never much of a question, as the film never really wants to question Chris Kyle morally or ethically, even though there is the obvious parallel of Chris killing a child and parent who put a weapon into the child's hand, despite in flashback we see Chris is too a child who had a weapon put into his hand by a parent.

Painting in black-and-white, Eastwood misses the blending colors. The climax was quite anti-climactic. Trying to jazz it up with slow-motion or so-called bullet-time, as well as a lackluster sandstorm that wasn't as exciting as the one in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, didn't help matters. The ending was simply not impactful.

I also have to make note of a scene in the middle of this film that has some comparison to a middle scene in Fury. In that Brad Pitt, war movie, there is a scene where the soldiers invade a German home and have a meal. In this film, Bradley Cooper and his soldiers invade an Iraqi home and also have a meal. This scene with Cooper is better than the scene with Pitt. For one, it's shorter. It's more purposeful and it doesn't have the air of rape hanging over it.

Unlike the TV series Homeland, it doesn't attempt to use the scene to show any shades of grey or blending of any colors. It simply reinforces the black-and-white, good guy vs. bad guy dynamic that is ultimately untrue and boring.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for disturbing war violence, and language including some sexual references.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 12 mins.


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