The best theater around the area I live is about a 45 minute drive south of me. Sure, we have a local one but it’s a bit down and dirty in comparison. With so much hype around “American Sniper”, I thought this would be worth me traveling 45 minutes to see it in the best theater possible. Yet once I got down there the film was already sold out (at 12:40 it doesn’t happen often around here). So my girlfriend and I had to travel all the way back to catch a 2’o clock showing at my local theater. Reaching there with plenty of time, the theater got crowded quick. Was “American Sniper” worth the total of an hour and 30 minutes of driving? I would say it was. “American Sniper” was tense and at times a well made war film with a powerful performance by Bradley Cooper. However the real question is was “American Sniper” good enough for the Best Picture nomination it just received from the Academy Awards? Far From it. Although the film is good, the script can be clunky, sloppy, and ends rather abruptly, this is a solid film but not without its heavy flaws.
After an attack on an American embassy, former Texan cowboy Chris Kyle joins the Navy to become an Navy SEAL sniper. After his long training, he is shipped overseas to Iraq. Placed on the frontlines, Kyle becomes a legendary sniper on the battlefield earning himself the nickname, “the Legend.” However, he finds once he comes home from tours he becomes unable to cope with the mundane way of normal life. His wife becomes increasingly distressed as Kyle continues to deal with the guilt he has for the lives he didn’t save.
Director Clint Eastwood has been a bit hit or miss as of late. Clearly a veteran though behind the camera the look of the picture is very darkly beautiful. The colors are degraded and faded, while the screen feels like it has a bit of gray tinting. Eastwood is able to grace the screen with eye appealing scenery and incredible framing of shots. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from Eastwood in a motion picture; attributed from his long career in Hollywood that stretches back around sixty plus years. Some of the issues of the film don’t necessarily come from his directing but instead the scripting.
The movie’s script feels wonky and all over the place at times. After a tense opening scene (highlighted in the brilliant first teaser for the movie) it unceremoniously cuts back to Kyle’s childhood. It’s abrupt and slices into the intensity that the film already built up to showcase a lot of back story that feels irrelevant. Some of Kyle’s early life should be shown (with better kid actors I might mention) but cutting into a scene that was built up so well it hurts the pacing of the film. The movie begins to find it’s cadence after cutting back to the tour in Iraq and especially during the second tour of the Iraq War. Eastwood is able to keep the movie on its proper footing till around the ending.
The movie rushes through the ending to the point where it leaves wanting so much more. In a film filled with such tense of gut wrenching scenes the movie curiously just fades to black with not much relevance or thought provoking moment. The last 10-15 minutes of the movie is like a blind man throwing darts at a dart board; just throwing stuff at us hoping it will stick. The allegory here being, the script starts throwing new info at us (Chris’s PTSD treatment), then shows some other scenes here and there of the family then just ends. The PTSD recovery feels glossed over, the new home life scenes feel as though they have no purpose, and the fade to black comes too soon. If anything, the movie should have cut much of his early life out to be able to give us a more proper ending that lead to Kyle’s fate.
Eastwood has a few war films under his belt including the semi-recent “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Imo Jima”, so obviously he is more than capable of creating some intense and realistic feeling war scenes. “American Sniper” is no different. This has some tense moments where you will be chewing on your finger nails waiting to see what happens next. The movie has the weight of authenticity but also the moments that war epics are made of. Some scenes are very hard to watch and graphic but Eastwood once again brilliantly showcases the horrors of war.
Bringing Chris Kyle to life is Bradley Cooper. In his third straight Oscar nomination (“Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” being the other two), Cooper is able to carry the film on his shoulders; showing a wide range of acting talents, while being able to showcase PTSD in a credible way. Beefing up tremendously for the role, Cooper helps elevate the film greatly. Had another actor played the role, I’m not sure if the movie would have held together as well as it did. Should Bradley Cooper have gotten the nomination? It’s an Oscar worthy performance no doubt but I do agree there are a few other performances I would have nominated before him, Jake Gyllenhaal being one of them for “Nightcrawler” (which I will review eventually). Still though, that in no way takes away from the tremendous work Cooper brought to this film.
“American Sniper” is quiet flawed, with several pacing issues and an abrupt ending. Eastwood’s direction of the pivotal war sequences and Cooper amazing performance help make the film become much better than the script really should have allowed it to be. Not Best Picture worthy in my book, but still a solid job.