Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Hater of Repetitive Exploitative Drama
As an attempt to be an inspiring war drama about the realities of PTSD and the hardships of duty on mind, body and family, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper successfully explores the downside of waging war by examining the detailed life of one soldier whose skill and accuracy saved countless fellow soldiers’ lives, but took an irreparable toll on a man torn between family and duty.
The problem here isn’t so much the source material as it is Clint Eastwood’s mishandling of the project, turning a gripping human drama into a rote, repetitive half hour repeated over and over over the course of two hours and change…
Dramatized from the detailed story of late Navy SEAL Chief Chris Kyle, American Sniper stars Bradley Cooper as a God-fearing Texas man who decides to join the armed forces after seeing terrorist attacks on American innocents. Having survived SEAL training, Kyle heads off to Iraq for a first tour, but not before having met the lovely Taya (Sienna Miller), a strong-headed woman he meets in a bar near base.
As his first outing in the war zone proceeds with daily caution, Kyle’s natural talent with sniping quickly earns him the reputation among his peers as “Legend”, due to his impressive kill rate, enough so that enemy insurgents start placing a bounty on his head for fear of losing more men to his pinpoint accuracy.
Upon his return from each tour, Kyle realizes he can’t sit and watch his fellow men fall prey to the enemy, including an Iraqi sharpshooter whose skill rivals his.
Torn between returning to battle and staying behind to build his family, the morally torn soldier must decide how far he is willing to go to serve his country, despite the toll his duty is taking on his personal life.
Clint Eastwood has shown he can direct a film, what with great pieces like Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven. At the same time, he never quite got the knack of the military genre, with his previous effort, Heartbreak Ridge, turning out to be more exciting in its boot camp eccentricity than its action scenes.
The latter was no Kubrickian success, and I fear the same will occur with Sniper, despite its multiple Oscar nominations earlier this year. Having decided to adapt Chris Kyle’s story to the big screen for emotional and dramatic heft, the film seems to only work in two speeds: frenetic or downright neutral gear.
Though the soldier’s experiences up to his last tour (he died while off duty in 2013) are remarkable in their own right and make for good story fodder, Eastwood can’t seem to get the same result from Cooper, who either plays Kyle as morally torn when faced with ambiguous targets, or as a catatonic shell of a man being eaten alive by PTSD.
It’s those two extremes that take away from the film’s dramatic impact, creating a severe cinematic handicap. At age 84, Eastwood shows he can still come up with a finished product, but I find myself wondering if he thought no one had read the book or was going to notice any shortcuts being taken in order to keep the tale under a respectable running time.
Sienna Miller goes brunette in her role as Kyle’s wife Taya, however her performance becomes rote and repetitive after her hubby’s first return from action, along with the next three tours that followed.
Is Bradley Cooper’s lack of emotion a masterful acting choice or a directorial mistake? It’s hard to tell. I choose to think the latter, but while the film isn’t terrible, it doesn’t live up to the book it’s based on (and which I suggest you pick up and read) and therefore can’t pass muster when being considered for the awards it’s been nominated for.
American Sniper is good. Just not Oscar good, as it turned out.
Still worth a watch. Judge for yourself.
3 out of 5
Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.