AM At The Movies: ‘American Sniper’

Above: Bradley Cooper plays U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in Clint Eastwood's biographical war drama, 'American Sniper'
Above: Bradley Cooper plays U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in Clint Eastwood's biographical war drama, 'American Sniper'

American Sniper is the story of Chris Kyle, a United States Navy SEAL and, as the film’s tagline suggests, the most lethal sniper in American history.

Based on his autobiography, the film is a mix of Kyle’s four tours of duty in Iraq, life at home with his wife Taya and growing family and the conflicts that exist on both fronts and internally for the solider. When the nominees for the 87th Academy Awards came out last week, the film received six nominations, including one for Best Picture and a Best Actor nod for Bradley Cooper, who jams some Copenhagen into his lower lip, speaks with a deliberate Southern cadence and dons a beard and some extra heft to portray Kyle.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, American Sniper is at times a beautiful film to watch. Eastwood keeps the action sequences close-up and lean, delivering only what is needed to get the point across; nothing more, nothing less. Unfortunately, there are also times where the film feels forced – a bullet time sequence shows up out of nowhere, distant interactions at funerals, family parties and laying in bed at night between Kyle and his wife Taya (Sienna Miller).

American Sniper is a movie trying to be two different movies at the same time.

On one hand, it wants to be an action movie about a bad-ass soldier – a man christened “The Legend” that has no interest in just sitting up on a rooftop picking off enemies one at a time. He wants to be on the ground, clearing buildings with his fellow Punishers. He’s not troubled by the lives he’s taken, but rather the lives of his brothers-in-arms that he could not save.

On the other hand, it wants to be a movie about the impact war takes on a person and those around him – a father and husband that isn’t present for his family even when he’s at home; a man who struggles to acclimate himself to “normal life” and heads back to the frontlines time after time despite the pleas of his wife.

The problem is that the two never come together as one cohesive unit. Instead, it’s a fragment of the action from a film like Black Hawk Down spliced with the shades of the emotional tension and conflict of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, which took home Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards.

Cooper is very good, but it’s hard for him not to stand out given that he’s the only actor given any real room to work with. While he’s more than capable of shouldering the load himself, giving some of the other characters a little more depth might have helped connect the “home and away” elements that don’t sync up. There are glimpses of where the two could be fastened together, but it never quite gets there and the film suffers as a result.

In just a handful of scenes, Keir O’Donnell impresses as Chris Kyle’s younger brother, Jeff, but outside of that, no one other than Cooper connects.

American Sniper is destined to be one of those films that some people adore, other dislike and even more are ambivalent towards.

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