Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Luke Grimes, Leonard Roberts, Jake McDorman, Eric Close, Jonathan Groff
Directed By: Clint Eastwood
There’s a political shitstorm around this movie, and I’m going to try and stay out of it. I have to step lightly into it, but hopefully I’ll just get dusted. In order to understand why American Sniper isn’t the greatest film of the year, you have to understand that Clint Eastwood seemed to ignore sections of Kyle’s book. Kyle was well known, for example, to call his enemies “savages”, and talked about looting abandoned apartments during his tour. There’s also the infamous passage about punching Jesse Ventura, which isn’t in the movie, or mentioned in the movie. Movies do have a little responsibility to be faithful adaptations, on top of the fact that it’s a biopic, and should represent its subject as historically accurate as possible. American Sniper, to my knowledge, didn’t do that.
The movie is actually a decent film, if you ignore that it’s an adaptation, or based on a real person. It’s also not really a “war film” so much as a film that is “about wartime”. Kyle spends a decent portion of the film doing things outside of battle, like wooing his wife, raising his kids, etc. What Eastwood does right is showing us that Kyle is more than just a soldier, or a sniper. He’s a man, with a family, and real life issues. Yes, we also do get to see him as a sniper, and a damn good sniper at that. In a few particularly harrowing sequences, Kyle has to decide whether or not to shoot a child. The first time is difficult for him, but the second instance is even more difficult as he has a son about the same age. It’s probably the best acting scene in the movie for Cooper.
Bradley Cooper actually does a good job. It’s a little stretch for him, playing a manly texas man. He likes to play sarcastic, fast talking, energetic characters. Kyle is the opposite from what Cooper has done in Silver Linings Playbook and American Sniper. In a weaker year, I’d say he’s a strong candidate for Best Actor, but it’s hard to see him breaking through this year. If they extended beyond five nominees, then maybe, but with the system as is, I feel like he’ll get left off. There are bigger performances this year from better films.
I’ve seen people argue that because Kyle is unrepentant about his kills that this film glorifies violence. Actually… those people are wrong. Just because Kyle may have been unrepentant doesn’t mean Eastwood told that story. Part of his inaccuracy actually leads to this film not glorifying violence. Kyle never brags about his kills. He only talks about it at the end when talking to a therapist. When someone calls him a hero, or a superstar sniper, or whatever, he always looks uncomfortable. And sure, there are “easy” kills, but there are also hard kills (like the kids), where he clearly is at odds. War films, to some extent will always glorify violence to at least a minor extent. Even Saving Private Ryan, which shows the horrors of war, still shows the idea that heroism can be drawn from slaying your enemy. This doesn’t go beyond a fraction of glorification at all.
I think American Sniper will follow Lone Survivor, and be a commercial success without getting Oscar love. And that should be good enough. It’s not one of the years best films, but it is an OK film.
FINAL GRADE: B