UK Release Date: 16th January 2015
Runtime: 132 minutes
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Jason Hall
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Sammy Sheik
Synopsis: The story of US soldier Chris Kyle, officially known as the most lethal sniper in American military history, and his multiple tours of active duty during the recent Iraq War.
Since The Hurt Locker won big at the Oscars in 2010, gritty modern war movies have become a fixture of awards season. The latest entry in this particular canon is Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which has proved to be one of the most divisive films of 2015 already.
Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is riding rodeo bulls and dating beautiful women when a terrorist atrocity on TV motivates him to sign up for training as a US Navy SEAL. He marries Taya (Sienna Miller) and is soon sent off to hunt down an al-Qaeda leader in Iraq. Whilst there, he earns the nickname “Legend” as a result of his impressive skill as a sniper.
The first thing to clear up about American Sniper is that it is a film that shouldn’t be anywhere near the Academy Awards. Not only is it a troubling exercise in depressing jingoism, but it is also a poorly put together film. It’s more like an amateur film than that of a seasoned director, with some risible special effects and the most obviously artificial cast member since Paddington in the shape of its much-discussed rubber baby, which creates endless unintentional comedy.
| "Even when you’re here, you’re not here. I see you, I feel you, but you’re not here."
But the issue goes beyond silly toy infants. American Sniper just feels, from start to finish, like a half-arsed job. The visuals are more Call of Duty than Saving Private Ryan, with any visceral impact the violence may have had completely diluted by the terrible effects work. One establishing shot of a soon-to-be battle zone actually resembles the kind of imagery that you’d see in a first person shooter video game. This ramshackle feel really devalues the reality of the film’s setting, which means it never creates the believable world that won The Hurt Locker its plaudits.
It doesn’t help that, at the centre of the film, on screen for almost the entire running time, is Bradley Cooper. Despite all of his obvious talent, Cooper seems to enamoured by the prospect of awards to make smart career decisions. His recent roles, in American Hustle and now American Sniper, seem designed with one eye on the Academy. It’s as if there was a golden statuette in the corner of his eye the entire time. As a result, his performance is safe and patriotic, with all of the man’s rough edges smoothed off to create a palatable screen hero. It’s certainly not a patch on Jake Gyllenhaal’s edgy turn in Nightcrawler, which was cruelly overlooked in the Oscar nominations.
Sienna Miller fares better as Cooper’s frazzled wife, but her performance is undercut by the fact neither Eastwood’s camera nor Jason Hall’s script seems particularly interested in her.
In fact, American Sniper only really seems interested in watching the guy shoot Iraqis. It is established early on that, in the world of this film, everyone who is American is a good guy and everyone else is fair game for a spell in the crosshairs. This grossly simplifies an enormously complicated conflict and reduces it to a crude issue of patriotism that is a grim reminder of Team America: World Police.
| "I’m willing to meet my creator and answer for every shot that I took."
Nowhere is the grotesque patriotism more infuriating than in the final moments of the film, in which tragic events are spun into an excuse for flag waving. There is a hugely interesting film to be made about the shocking and tragic circumstances surrounding Chris Kyle’s death, but American Sniper is not that film. This is a war movie, through and through. It’s there to satisfy and titillate the Call of Duty crowd.
And, surely, the Oscars are about more than that?
Pop or Poop?
In many ways, American Sniper ticks all of the boxes of a “great” American movie. However, its shoddy filmmaking and blinkered view of history renders it a real missed opportunity.
Given the tragedy and complexity of Chris Kyle’s story, Clint Eastwood’s film doesn’t even scratch the surface of what it could have been. It’s all of the shooting, with none of the subtext.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.