American Sniper fails to hit the mark
One solider — over 150 kills seems like the tagline for the next July spectacle, but American Sniper wasn’t the brainchild of a studio exec looking to fill a slot in the summer blockbuster schedule.
Instead, it’s based off the real life account of Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL sniper whose encounters overseas are amazingly better than fiction.
It’s too bad then that director Clint Eastwood is so frustratingly inconsistent in sharing the incredible journey of the man his fellow soldiers nicknamed ‘the legend’ that the film becomes a disappointingly shallow and distant experience.
The same can’t be said for the work of two-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (American Hustle (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD with UltraViolet), who offers his most immersive performance beyond just packing on 40 pounds and growing a thick beard. Cooper continues to top himself and find new heights to ascend as an actor that he’s now getting lost in his characters.
From the reluctant portrayal of being a living legend among his peers to his inability to enjoy life at home with his family during the war, Cooper gives his all in showing what’s going on inside Kyle’s head. The film would have benefited from that same commitment from Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall (Paranoia [Blu-ray]).
Eastwood fully gets that the war scenes are the money elements of the film and it’s in those moments the film nearly reaches the level promised by those exhilarating trailers. Even then the sniper sequences aren’t as compelling as in Enemy at the Gates, lacks the intensity of Jeremy Renner’s disaffected soldier in The Hurt Locker and doesn’t offer that time is against them feeling of Black Hawk Down. It’s solid but nothing particularly special.
The film falters when the bullets aren’t whizzing by and Hall is asked to make the audience care about Kyle beyond his prowess with a sniper rifle.
Hall is content running through the cliff notes version of Kyle’s life — he learned from his father not to put his gun down while on a hunt; he is raised in the church; meets a girl, Taya (Sienna Miller) and marries her and is off to the war — but never allows any of it to fully sink in.
These are the vital character development beats necessary to make Kyle’s story impactful for the audience, but we’re kept at arm’s length from really getting to know and care about him. On the other hand, Kyle wrote that killing was fun and he hated ‘the savages’ and we’re given little of the overwhelming sense of confidence Kyle penned in his bestselling memoir. (Read here: American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History)
Hall is so enamored with conveying Kyle’s heroics that he shortchanges Taya — making her more of a nagging irritant who is somehow irrational for not wanting her husband to risk his life on the battlefield.
Miller has little to work with as she’s painted as selfish for simply wanting her husband back. In those fleeting returns home, we’re given a glimpse of the movie this could have been as Kyle struggles to adjust to normal life with a playful dog snapping him back to the battlefield.
American Sniper feels like a movie that has a lot more to say, but can’t figure out how to convey its message despite a fantastic effort from its leading man.
Rating: 5 out of 10
*All pictures courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures