Walker Sayen ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
American Sniper stars Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, who was the deadliest sniper in American military history, and while it may take place during the war on terror, it is at heart a Western. It tells the story of a lone gunman who must, through bravery and courage, stand up for honor and freedom. And thus, it is fitting that the film should be directed by non other than legendary Western icon Clint Eastwood. However, despite the intrigue of seeing one of the last true legends of the golden age of Wild West cinema craft a modern day version of the classic legends that he knows so well, the final result is a mixed bag.
The film is interesting because at first glance it appears to be for the war on terror, and very pro-America in general. It seems to be a very conservative minded film. However, at closer look, the film is revealed to be a lot more ambiguous and ambivalent in its depiction of an American icon shrouded in myth. The film seems to be more an exploration of what war does to a man who so fervently believes in the American ideal of defending one’s country, rather than a flat out defense of that belief. The movie shows the isolation and turmoil of a man turned into a killing machine by America’s war culture. But that could also just be this reviewer reading too deeply into a movie that at times is extremely lazy.
Unlike the glory days of Eastwood’s filmmaking abilities, when he produced calculated dramas like Unforgiven, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, much of American Sniper seems phoned in and without detailed thought. Many of the shots are composed awkwardly and without the carful planning and framing of his earlier work. Also, there is a scene with a fake baby that is so obvious, it really shows the height of the film’s acceptance of merely workable ideas. Mistakes like this, in a major Hollywood production from a major studio, a major director, and featuring a major star, really is unacceptable. Also, from a story perspective, while Kyle is a fully drawn character, none of the other members of the cast, with the exception of his wife (played by Sienna Miller) register as characters at all. So, when Chris’ fellow soldiers die in combat, there is no emotional reaction of any sort.
However, the movie is not all bad. The sound editing and mixing is quite exceptional, feeding into some of the best moments of the film, especially a scene when Chris is back home, and he is watching an empty TV screen, but hearing the horrifying sounds of war. The film is also well cut together by long time Eastwood collaborators Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach, piecing together the film’s intertwining Iraq and home front sections into a fairly tight whole. The climactic sandstorm chase sequence is also very dynamic, and the whole last act brings up the most interesting material with Kyle’s attempt to assimilate back into ordinary life.
Yet the film’s best asset is its star. Bradley Cooper has been on a roll lately with his collaborations with David O. Russell, and he continues the trend with another fully committed portrayal. He captures the physicality and emotional turmoil of the sniper, and injects a lot of heart into a man who is a killing machine. Cooper is completely believable as a man who can pull the trigger at a moment’s notice. He makes even the film’s weakest moments work a lot better.
So even thought the film has many rough parts, its nice to see Eastwood back in the game with his best movie since his other war sagas, Letters From Iwo Jima and Flags of our Fathers. It may not be as good as those films, but American Sniper is a slight step in the right direction for Eastwood who has had some missteps lately. Hopefully next time he will commit more and give a little bit more of his immense talent to construct an even better film.
Overall Grade: B-