American Sniper: Film Review
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Director: Clint Eastwood
Director Clint Eastwood saddles back up in to the director's chair for this story of America's most acclaimed marksmen.
Bradley Cooper stars as Chris Kyle, a small-town Texan boy whose reputation as one of the deadliest snipers of all time (he apparently notched up over 160 confirmed kills during his tours of Iraq) saw him revered among his own and feared among the enemy.
American Sniper is Kyle's story - from his courtship of wife Taya (Sienna Miller) to his sign up and deployment.
There's a sequence early in American Sniper where Chris' dad lectures both him and his brother about how people are sheep, wolves or sheep-dogs when it comes to their nature.
It could also be applied to Eastwood's take on America's deadliest sniper and his story, given the mixed episodic feeling of the tale he weaves together - a meek piece that occasionally roars and also overly salutes those who serve abroad and protect the homeland.
Background on Kyle is kept to a minimum - a patriot who's incensed by the terrorist assaults launched on his homeland and who's determined to do the right thing in life. But by chopping inbetween and back and forth to tours of duty to Iraq's frontlines and domestic troubles with wife Taya (a solid unshowy Miller, providing a much-needed counterpoint as a wounded and changed man returns home), Eastwood barely manages a rounded picture. It's more a snapshot of man whose first kill is a mother and child and whose reputation within the marine corp is labelled as legend stands in stark contrast of Iraqis who labelled him the devil of Ramadi.
Cooper dramatically impresses, with little to do other than look calm under fire (given how under-developed the domestic side of events are); he's as focused as his rifle sights and displays growing signs of PTSD as he heads back in between tours. To be frank, after a little background reading Eastwood's chosen to leave out some of the darker elements of his character and preferred not to muddy the dramatic waters with some more morally questionable moments.
It's an interesting take given that there's clearly more to this jingoistic cowboy from Texas - but given the story of American Sniper, it's probably wiser that he adopted this approach preferring to concentrate on the implied effects rather than a histrionic melodrama of PTSD and the domestic impact which have all been told a million times before.
Characters around Kyle fare less well with the grunts and the marines becoming more faceless hoo-yahs and irrelevant to the plot but difficult when one of them succumbs to the evil sniper and proves a driving force for Kyle's ultimate quest; an early bond with his brother seeded nicely in the opening stages withers frustratingly in the dramatic garden, unwatered by screen time or development. And the Iraqis - including the roof-top running sniper set up as Kyle's nemesis and opposite counterpart - are little more than once over lightly baddies. It becomes a battle of good vs evil for no reason other than several marines imparting the fact "there is evil here", a mantra which Cooper's character intones and implicitly believes without the burden of proof.
Thankfully, some tension comes in the execution of battle scenes. Riddled in sand and rumbling in occasional suspense, Eastwood finds his focus is as sharp as Kyle's shooting apparently was with hardly any screen time wasted on filler as the shots ring out. A final sequence and showdown grips as a sandstorm and insurgents bear down on Kyle and his cohorts and go some way to capturing the claustrophobia, fears and uncertainty of the theatre of war, even it is swathed in a thick blanket of red dust which makes key players hard to differentiate. Plus, it treads the well-worn cliches of the genre - there's some good news for one, suddenly they're under attack. It all feels startingly unoriginal.
A final footnote to Kyle's life is frustratingly skated over and scenes after his return home don't quite deliver the dramatic promise which has been previously afforded; moreover, the final cavalcade with routes lined with flags and police escorts feels more like Eastwood's innate thanks being delivered to anyone who's ever served rather than the soldier he's chosen to concentrate on in this celluloid outing.
Overall, American Sniper is a tight and taut movie in parts; one which looks down a barrel and has its target in its sights thanks to Eastwood's restrained direction and a beefed up turn from a lead who says little physically but delivers more than enough; but that isn't quite enough to help it hit the dramatic bullseye.