"Would you be surprised if I told you that the Navy has credited you with over 160 kills?"
Given that the last true story that Clint Eastwood brought to cinema was a bit of a disappointment this story of the deadliest sniper in US history seems to be more up his street. And with Bradley cooper starring, can the man with no name prove that he still has what it takes to be a great director as well as a great actor.
Based on Chris Kyle’s (Bradley Cooper) life, a shooter who became a US sniper in Iraq, is chronicled in American Sniper. From his brutal training to his family life, his decorated tours of duty to his obsession with finding the high level insurgent known only as the Butcher.
There are many elements of Eastwood’s directorial trademarks present here. For a start there is that large scale of action mixed with human drama. Eastwood applies different techniques to nail them both, the human aspect feels fleshed out and real and the action feels brutal and heart pounding in comparison. The differences between the two are studied and used repeatedly as a theme throughout the film as Kyle struggles to keep his professional personality separate from his role as a family man.
The suspense it creates is drawn up to great heights as it was with The Hurt Locker, and there are a lot of elements that ring true for both stories. Whether it was intentional or not Eastwood borrowed some aspects from Kathryn Bigelow’s masterpiece.
However there are some issues with the film and that does come down to what you fear it might be from a film called AMERICAN Sniper. Rather than attempting to remain in the neutral zone the writing and direction of the film is far more black and white than one of this subject matter should be. American Sniper fails to explore the deeper and darker aspects of PTSD that are implied throughout. This is clearly a damaged and wounded individual and it looks like Cooper wants to explore that as an actor because he takes every opportunity he can to hammer this point across.
Furthermore this film never questions Kyle’s actions on the level that it could. This is not a man who is hailed by everyone and many take offense to his praise as a hero. And while most biographical films should take a chance to celebrate their subject when they can, if you’re dealing with a man as controversial and questionable as this and take the approach that American Sniper does, it feels like a wasted opportunity.
It’s not just down to a question of morality, it also fails to deliver on the psychological level in the same way that say… Nightcrawler did. And I know that maybe I’m critical of this film instinctively as American Sniper and Bradley Cooper took the place of Nightcrawler and Gyllenhaal at the Oscars, both of which are far superior in my opinion.
Cooper does give a fantastic performance here. He manages to portray the emotional trauma and fear within the character but that just makes it more irritating that they didn’t go deeper into his psych. He wants to be a simple person and remain connected to his personal world. But he also conveys to obsession an madness that comes close to consuming him.
To the film’s credit it does portray the ugliness and grittiness of war, but in a way it uses that to make Kyle more of a hero. It shows how he has to cope with himself and overcome this horrific side of himself. While on paper that sounds complex it gives it more of a feeling of standing against the odds and overcoming terrible aspects and never leaves it to the viewer to understand.
Though there are some excellent elements of American Sniper, there are not enough of them nor are they explored in enough detail to make it truly great.