Directed by: Clint Eastwood || Produced by: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper, Peter Morgan
Screenplay by: Jason Hall || Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Max Charles, Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Sam Jaeger, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict
Music by: Joseph DeBeasi, Clint Eastwood || Cinematography: Joel Cox || Edited by: Gary D. Roach || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 132 minutes
Truth be told, I’m impressed but not as surprised as everybody else in the critical and cinephile-sphere at American Sniper’s success, given my background. I was born and raised in moderately conservative rural Illinois, where long stretches of corn and soybean fields stretch well past the horizon and then some, where people most always vote Republican, the government is viewed with mistrust, and poor people receiving welfare “handouts” is worthy of a sneer. Now don’t get me wrong, my childhood home was not a cesspool of braindead, backwater hicks, but there were and are a lot of rednecks where I grew up and respect for the military and American patriotism is overtly displayed there in both good and bad ways. As such, I was none too surprised when I went to my local theatre on Thursday night to see a packed house near my town of 10,000.
For my part, I thought Clint Eastwood’s Sniper was a tense, well directed, well written, and most refreshingly of all, well edited war picture that took ample but efficient time to establish a subtle, nuanced portrait of the American campaign in Iraq and in particular the harrowing life-story of a soldier who fought there over multiple tours. Like the great dramatizations of the modern Middle East conflicts before it (e.g. The Hurt Locker , Generation Kill , Zero Dark Thirty ), AS avoids an obvious political stance on the nature of modern war and America’s place in it.
Given the film’s rampant financial success, its title, its setting, and its autobiographical subject matter, American Sniper has conjured up a fair bit of controversy. Numerous leftwing critics, including many professional movie reviewers, have lambasted the film as American propaganda or glorifying a supposed bloodthirsty, psychopathic “patriot” or even compared it to the Nazi sniper film-within-a-film from Inglorious Basterds (2009), “Nation’s Pride.”
Aside from numerous people’s immature inability to separate warfare itself from the warrior (or the grunts fighting and bleeding on the frontlines as opposed to the fascist fucks who sent them there in the first place), the film itself is ambiguous in its assessment of its controversial subject matter, the most lethal sniper in US history, Chief Petty Officer (and Navy SEAL) Chris Kyle. While Kyle himself is portrayed as close-minded, crude, and quite conservative in that most proud Texan sort of way, he is also painted as emotionally conflicted, a loving father and husband, a masterful soldier and marksman, and clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). On the one hand, he is an ordinary, compassionate citizen who wants to serve his country and protect his comrades-in-arms, and on the other, his daily job is to shoot down enemy combatants from afar, including any and all threats to the questionable American invasion of Iraq, be they men, women, or children.
The film asks the disturbing question: How does one deal with being considered a “Legend” (as his fellow Americans call him) or “The Devil of Ramadi” (as the Iraqi insurgents referred to him)? How does one comprehend and come to grips with being a masterful artist when one’s artistry is taking away life? Perhaps if the numerous critics who lambasted the film had actually seen it (or understood it), they might be contemplating that as well…
Kyle’s arc as depicted in the film is simultaneously disturbing, tragic, and uplifting. Both the script by Jason Hall and Eastwood’s acting-direction bring out the best in star Bradley Cooper, who is absolutely on fire here. Cooper bulked up in both body and mind to portray a battle-hardened, heavily conflicted war veteran whose mind and morality gradually goes to shit as the war rages on. It’s his best acting effort by far.
Eastwood stages the sniper missions and battle scenes with great precision and paces the intense war action with intermittent but emotionally resonant scenes back home. The battles in Iraq are gritty, bloody, and brutal while Cooper’s interactions with his increasingly estranged wife, Taya Ranae Kyle (Sienna Miller), are equally painful in a very different sort of way. The way Eastwood balances the intensity and force of the military bravado with its realistic repercussions back home is the film’s greatest strength. As Kyle’s kill-count rises, his fame and infamy among his comrades and enemy combatants respectively takes a toll on Kyle’s sanity. After Cooper shoots down his first targets in the streets of Iraq, a mother and child attempting to blow up a tank and accompanying squad with a RKG-Russian grenade, his watch partner guffaws and heartily congratulates him as the average action-junkie moviegoer might with a pat on the shoulder, only to be swiftly rebuffed by an obviously affected Kyle, “Get the fuck off me!”
For those of you who are a bit too politically inclined and/or way over-thinking this, I’d suggest you give this movie the time of day before condemning it outright. I understand that any film about such recent and volatile sociopolitical subject matter is bound to stir up controversy, but once again I must remind viewers and movie-lovers the world over that our personal views and subjective inclinations must not cloud our objective judgement of a film’s artistic worth. Simply because a film might not align to your view of the world is no justification for criticism.
As The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr put it: “Sniper is a story told strictly from an American soldier’s point of view, with the relevant honesty, blind spots, dissonances, defensiveness, pride, professionalism, and self-loathing put out there for all to see. Beyond that, there’s an innate understanding that anyone who wasn’t there — be they a filmmaker or a movie critic or an audience member or a bloviator on the right or the left — can never comprehend the experience, and that those who were there share an unbreakable, inexpressible bond.
Which hasn’t stopped us from using American Sniper as a hankie to weep uncomplicatedly in or a stick with which to bludgeon others, both responses at the expense of the mixed messages its maker intuitively and (I believe) consciously put there. So many audiences are coming to this movie to have their beliefs mirrored and reconfirmed, holding on to the parts that jibe with what they want to see and tossing out the rest. Ask yourself: Is that Eastwood’s fault or is it ours?”
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: American Sniper looks great and sounds even better with outstanding production values and awesome (but also emotionally resonant and narratively meaningful) action scenes. Eastwood directs the hell out of this movie with great visual symbolism and attention to detail, and also brings out the best in rising star Bradley Cooper. Jason Hall’s script finds the perfect balance of domestic and wartime conflict, showing how war affects both those at home (in America and in Iraq) and abroad (in Iraq…and America) and approaches its titular character and his war campaign with brutal, unflinching honesty.
— However… American Sniper’s antagonists are underused and that fake baby just looks painfully fake. Come on, guys.
? If you think that this war isn’t changing you, you’re wrong. You can only circle the flames so long….