Thursday, 19 February 2015

American Sniper

American Sniper, 2014
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor

American Sniper tells the story of Chris Kyle, the most lethal in US Military History. Chris, born and raised in Texas and joins the SEALs, going on 4 tours of Iraq. But it's not easy. He's married and he's having kids and struggling between all the kills that he is making and how to balance having a normal life with the family he has left behind.

Just as a preface, I finished reading the book this film is based on roughly 4 hours before I sat down in the theatre to watch this. Things were extremely fresh in my mind from Chris Kyle's own account and thus it did make it difficult to separate. Most of the events in the film are completely fictionalized (if Kyle's autobiography is to be believed), so I found it difficult to just watch the movie, instead of "fact checking" and just being really nitpicky and internally complaining about why things got changed (either for the better or the worse)

Anyway, American Sniper is a film I feel like I have seen several times before and most of those films have done it better than Sniper. Honestly, there just isn't anything done overly well or particularly special about this movie. The film seems to stay at the bare minimum surface level and resorts characters to cliched lines and essentially no character development- if we even get to know them at all. The only people we really get to know are Chris, himself and his girlfriend/wife Taya. We see them meeting and dating and getting married. But even then, this is done on such a surface level that we don't really get to know them at all. We are kept at an arms length from their relationship. Even Chris, we only roughly get to know. We know he was told to be the "sheep dog" the one to defend the weaker and to finish fights. He's a cowboy but is a patriotic American who is mad when people do anything to attack America and so joins the army. He's a good shot and apparently never takes a bad shot. Everything is justified. But he starts to struggle when he returns home. He isn't always mentally there, and something, a noise or someone cutting him off while driving brings him back to Iraq. But these things are show in very obvious ways. There's not very much subtlety or nuance.

However, Bradley Cooper does work with the material he has and gives an extremely fine performance. It's very different from anything he's done before and he, again, brings his A-game and really makes you believe he's a cowboy from Texas who loves his country passionately. He's reigned in and controlled, very different from the neurotic characters he's played for the last few years. Cooper's nomination for Best Actor is deserved. As well, the film is beautifully shot and captured.

My biggest problem was it's portrayal of the Iraqi people. It seems 99% of the Iraqi people we encounter are all "savages" as the film and real-life Chris Kyle likes to call them. They're all bad guys and have it out for the US Army. Even when you think you have finally encountered good characters, you haven't. And most of the Iraqi people don't have lines or names. While the film isn't screaming that Iraq is evil and so are it's people, but the (most likely) unconscious way that everyone they encounter in Iraq has guns and grenades and is "evil" is something that I have a big problem with. I know I personally have not been to Iraq, but to make a generalization like this is something I find problematic. It gives the wrong impression. I won't get into this topic more because I'm not educated enough and have strong opinions that I don't want to get in to, but this was a large problem for me. Again, it's not something the film maybe tried intentionally to do, but it did it and that's the message it sends out.

American Sniper is just a film that we have all seen before. It states the obvious and is riddled with cliches. Granted, Bradley Cooper gives one of his best performances to do and undoubtedly it's well shot and technically well made. But the direction and the screenwriting feels exceptionally lazy. I can't help but feel Steven Spielberg (who was initially attached) may have given us a better film. Or better yet, had Kathryn Bigelow been directing this, I think this film would've been fantastic. The source material and content has potential, but I feel like Clint Eastwood just didn't give it even close to his all. It almost feels like he and the screenwriter were just sleepwalking through, putting out a "decent" movie without needing to try to hard because, hey, who is going to slam a movie about an American "hero"? I know Clint Eastwood's intention was that he was making an anti-war film, but this only came across every so often, and it wasn't a very clear message.


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