Friday, January 16, 2015

American Sniper

Adapted from the autobiographical story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, Clint Eastwood offers an old fashioned character study with strong patriotic leanings and not as much introspection as one might ultimately like. Bradley Cooper is terrific in the starring role of a soldier obsessed with serving his country and protecting his brothers-in-arms overseas while struggling with even the idea of life back home with his wife (Sienna Miller). The result is an engaging, if incomplete, story as Eastwood careful cuts away anything that doesn't quite fit Kyle's heroic narrative including an ending that leaves much unsaid.

Following the soldier's own interests, the scenes that take place during Kyle's four tours of Iraq which made him the most lethal sniper in U.S. Military history work better than the limited amount of time we witness him back home. While acknowledging the character's hero complex, Eastwood mostly shies away from how the length of Kyle's service effected him emotionally choosing instead to celebrate (one might even argue glorify) the man's war record. Eastwood tells the story he wants well, even if the result begins to feel a bit too much like pro-military propaganda.

American Sniper is a good movie enhanced by the lead performance of a talented actor and framed by a respected filmmaker with decades of experience. Eastwood's take on Kyle's story works as a character drama even if it at times feels a bit corny and superficial. As a biopic the film feels incomplete, particularly with its choice not to delve deeper into the what happened to Kyle following his return to civilian life in the kind of detail we see in the overseas scenes. More than conclude the film simply comes to an abrupt end.

Because the focus is so strongly on Cooper the supporting cast is largely forgettable with the number of soldiers Kyle served with blurring together and leaving Sienna Miller largely wasted except for a single emotional scene of the pregnant wife listening over the phone to her husband's platoon fall under attack. This means the film rises and falls on Cooper's soldiers, and thankfully for us the actor is up to the challenge. His performance is worth the price of admission alone. Despite the one-sided stand Eastwood takes which leaves several aspects of Kyle's life unexplored, American Sniper is a good film, but, because of these issues, it never becomes the great film it aspires to be.

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