American Sniper (2014)
Rated – R
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
It’s been a while since Clint Eastwood made an impact with a film he directed. He went through a few golden years where he directed brilliant films like Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and Letters from Iwo Jima. But lately, his name has been tagged to films such as Changeling, Hereafter, J. Edgar and Jersey Boys. In American Sniper, Eastwood comes close and scratches the surface of a great film, but doesn’t quite achieve it.
Based on the real life Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle (Cooper), the film is about Kyle’s life and how he became the deadliest sniper for the United States. Motivated by the terror attacks on the United States Embassies in 1998, Kyle enlists and makes it as a SEAL. You can see it in Cooper’s eyes that he’s determined to make a real impact in his mission to face evil and defend the country that he loves.
Eastwood also gives time to show Kyle’s personal life with his wife Taya (Miller) and the toll war takes on a soldier. There are plenty of sequences that show the trauma that Kyle went through when he was away from the battlefield, but what he couldn’t grasp was the war he was waging inside his own home. Unfortunately, this is the side of the movie that doesn’t quite work as well. While Cooper is still engaging as a troubled war veteran, the scenes at home are too choppy and there is a huge gap from when he’s so paranoid he’s about to strike his dog to when he regains his old self and can be a stable father and husband again.
Some of the best scenes from American Sniper are when the SEALs are exchanging small-talk and poking fun at each other to loosen up as they’re walking through some of the most dangerous places in the world. The tension is always high, but the guys try their best to distract themselves from the possibility that they’re being targeted. And then there are the incredibly suspenseful scenes of Kyle staring into the scope and pointing his rifle at suspects. Kyle preaches not to hesitate, but the film does a great job putting ourselves in his shoes and whether or not we’d have the confidence to pull the trigger. I honestly don’t know how they make these calls.
Bradley Cooper gives the performance of his career as Chris Kyle. He bulked up for the role to portray the strength that Kyle had, but he’s best when he’s keeping all of his emotions internally and you can see how much the war changed him through his facial expressions and his movement. We see a man who is aching to get back in action to protect his brothers fighting for their country, and he just cannot function properly with that weighing on his mind every day. And through it all, we feel for Kyle because of the way Cooper goes about his character. He gives the impression exactly where Kyle believes he belongs, and whether that’s home or not is just some of the struggling he goes through.
The film is constructed to evoke emotions from the audience, but does a good job at staying neutral throughout. It’s not an anti-war movie, but it sort of is. It’s also a war movie since it has plenty of scenes in the battlefield, but acts as a character-study because of Kyle’s psyche and his personal life. But with all of these wheels spinning, it never dives deep enough to one or the other, making the film feel like a bunch of appetizers that tease you for a great meal, but the entree is never served. There isn’t anything new here, but the fact that it’s based on a true life hero sure is a great selling point. Nonetheless, it’s certainly the best film from Eastwood in several years.