American Sniper is substance, and reality free
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Jason Hall
Based on: American Sniper by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Running time: 133 minutes
Rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references
American Sniper is an over-glorified war film and biopic for a man that may not deserve a film about him. Aside from being well made, and well performed, there are too many instances of what I could only call irresponsible filmmaking, to count this as a good film. I could easily praise the performance of Bradley Cooper, and the cinematography, and I will because they are the only things that are actually praiseworthy here.
If it were possible to view this film as a completely fictitious story, it would make many of the aspects of the film more tolerable. For that reason, I will attempt to focus the majority of my review on those elements. The film plays like a pro American solider propaganda piece. The character flaws displayed by the solders on screen are so minor that they all look like unpolished and crude versions of Captain America. That was difficult to swallow as the filmmakers refused to make any clear statements on the events they were depicting, nor did they present a clear and complete narrative. Leaving an audience to come to their own conclusions can be effective, but to do that, you must present that audience with fully constructed characters and stories. As a whole, the motivations that drive the action in this film are vague and simplistic. The only real statement made by this film is Chris Kyle was a good guy; the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and sometimes messes people up.
Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname “Legend.” However, his reputation is also growing behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. He is also facing a different kind of battle on the home front: striving to be a good husband and father from halfway around the world.
Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, personifying the spirit of the SEAL creed to “leave no one behind.” But upon returning to his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), and kids, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind. – Warner Bros. Pictures
The performance Bradley Cooper delivers in this film is phenomenal, I feel I cannot emphasize that enough because it is honestly the only reason I gave this a three star rating. I genuinely feel bad to see a talented actor such as Cooper shoulder the burden of such a film. It is clear he wanted nothing more than to deliver an honest performance; unfortunately, the character he played was only an idealized character of the real Chris Kyle. The real person was an extremely flawed individual. I would have preferred the chance to see that person portrayed. I am not sure if I should place more blame on screenwriter Jason Hall, who may have become too close to Kyle personally to write his character objectively; or director Clint Eastwood, who appeared to treat the military with kid gloves. Even the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affected solders were portrayed heroically. At worst, they were portrayed as a little sad, lonely, and a little confused. I have personally known individuals afflicted with PTSD, they were in no way depicted in a realistic manner that give credence to the serious nature of the trauma.
All other problems with this film aside, there is one single thing that simply infuriated me. I can only call the last scene of the film the height of irresponsible filmmaking. In the last scene of the film, after returning from a father-son bonding hunting trip Chris Kyle walks into his house, revolver in hand, finger on the trigger, and points his weapon directly at his wife … as a joke. First, no Navy SEAL I know would ever playfully point a firearm at another human unless they were prepared to kill that person, and they would never place their finger on the trigger unless they were about to fire. Second, who would think this is a funny or playful joke. It didn’t fit the character, it didn’t fit the story, it didn’t belong in the film, and it was more than enough to convince me that Clint Eastwood has washed out.
American Sniper is an ultimately fruitless biopic for a man that, by all accounts, deserves far less attention than he received. The film cowardly chose to refrain from any type of statement on the war, or Kyle’s actions in that war. Character flaws were washed out of nearly every character to a ridiculous level, and American Sniper plays like a 1940s propaganda film.