There are so many war movies, it really does become very repetitive. Seriously, they all start to resemble each other so much that you really begin to wonder what is what and which scene is in which movie. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens with Clint Eastwood’s awards-contender film American Sniper. Based on Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle’s memoir, the film doesn’t use the source material or Bradley Cooper in the lead role to its true potential.
The film follows Kyle (Cooper) from a very brief look into his childhood, to just before he joins the military as a Navy SEAL not long after the September 11 attacks, and then during his tours of duty as well as a glimpse into his personal life; he marries wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and has two children.
American Sniper is the kind of film only few would enjoy and others not so much. All the interesting scenes are spoiled in the trailers and the film doesn’t ever manage to give us anything else. Eastwood goes for a too-literal tale of a war veteran and focuses too much on the myth rather than turning his focus onto the man himself. Perhaps this kind of film is better left to the words in Kyle’s book because its translation to the screen isn’t particularly a good one.
For one, the movie looks too much like every other war film we’ve been getting the last however many years. Kyle may have a reputation which precedes him, but as a character onscreen, Eastwood should have shifted his focus onto more intriguing things, like Kyle’s readjustment to real life, his PTSD, the friction between he and his wife, etc. These things are much more personable and powerful than giving us images of war that have become so commonplace that they don’t stand out.
Perhaps I’m being harsher than necessary, but on an enjoyment level, and even deeper on a filmmaking level, American Sniper is tedious to sit through. Like a man malnourished in the desert, the film slowly trudges through each scene like it has to and not because it wants to. It’s reminiscent of last year’s Lone Survivor in that it’s based on actual events, but Eastwood’s retelling just feels too disjointed in its storytelling. There’s a pattern as it goes from one scene to the next, but there’s no real flow to the way it’s being told.
What’s the most frustrating is the fact that Eastwood glorifies Kyle as a man who takes great joy in killing Iraqis because he thinks they’re less than human. And while it can be agreed that a sniper whose job is to kill must detach himself from the situation, it isn’t nice to gloss over Kyle’s true thoughts about the situation and his job and glorify him into someone he may not have necessarily been.
Bradley Cooper may be the only saving grace for the film. Cooper has upped his game in every film that he’s been in so far (at least the dramatic roles) and here is no different. Cooper’s Kyle is torn between his family and what he’s good at. Traumatized by what he’s seen, he struggles to come back to “normal” and Cooper shows this side of him well. Sienna Miller rises to the task. As the person on the other side, Miller doesn’t have much in the way of action and a lot of her scenes are only reacting to Cooper’s issues, but she makes due with what she has very well and rises above her role of being the supporting wife.
American Sniper is definitely not one of Clint Eastwood’s best. One can understand that a soldier, and more importantly, a sniper needs to remove himself from the opposing side in order to do his job and be able to sleep at night, but in a lot of ways Eastwood’s portrayal of Kyle isn’t wholly accurate and often glosses over certain things. What Eastwood does do well is portraying the aftermath of Kyle’s time in the military and especially his PTSD. I only wish the film had gone more into that and saved us from everything else.