American Sniper – Review

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Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Keir O’Donnell, Jake McDorman, Sammy Sheik
Based on the Book of the same name by: Chris Kyle and Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice
Adapted for the screen by: Jason Hall
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Metacritic Score: 72
IMDb Score: 7.4
Winner of One Academy Award for Best Sound Editing. Nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Adapted Screenplay (Jason Hall), Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing.

Rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references

OK, let’s have a heart-to-heart before I start this review. I was not looking forward to this movie because of the backlash/unwavering support that this film received mainly due to the way the main character was portrayed in this story: Chris Kyle.

Because, you know, when Fox News goes on the air and says the Oscars didn’t honor this movie enough because of political reasons, that automatically wants to make my stomach churn in all sorts of knots.

I’m not here to start a Fox News bashing (although it’s quite easy to start on them or CNN), but this is a movie that definitely gave me a bad taste in my mouth before seeing it. I know, I have to go in impartial and not have an opinion, but sometimes, backlash will affect and I want to state that for you on the start.

It was my friend Todd who pretty much told me to go see it and that it has value. Todd, a great friend whose opinion I both respect and question at times, told me the movie was actually quite good and I should give it a shot.

Here’s the other thing I will stress right now: I will use the word propaganda to explain this movie. Because, in all intents and purposes, this is a propaganda film. Propaganda has a very negative connotation to it, since it’s linked to movies such as Triumph of the Will and Fahrenheit 9/11 that, while being great films, are incredibly divisive.

You may already have a decision of how to take my review from this point forward and that’s fine, I have no problem with it. That said, the job of a critic to most people is to just spout a person opinion who’s opinion is respected.

Those who really know what a critic’s job should be is to not only give you a honest opinion on a film/art/music and how they feel of the piece, but to offer a prespective that makes you think of a movie in a different way or go find different movies that might suit what you’re quenching for.

Honestly, you probably came into this review wanting to know the answer to one question: Do I find this movie “inspirational and brave” like one sect of the country does or do I find it “propaganda that’s trying to serve a seedy agenda”?

Well, I’m here to tell you I feel neither way, so if that’s what you came for, you got your answer and you can click on that X or Red button on your browser and be on your way. For the rest:

Chris Kyle (Cooper) is a Texas cowboy who yearned for something more to his life. Soon, he enlists into the NAVY SEALS program with an unwavering need to serve his country. This film chronicles the time he thought about enlisting until the time he became “The Legend” that scored the most kills in American history.

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American Sniper sets out to an objective and it hits the mark in that: it is through and through a military propaganda film. It depicts anyone in the United States military as brave young men who fight selflessly for our country. It also depicts the bravery of what soldiers go through after they come home, which is a more of a propaganda about the testament, bravery and heart it takes to be a soldier in a war.

It also depicts the other side as little more than soulless savages whose sole purpose in life is to kill anything that has an American flag. Is that important to state? No, because that’s not what the film is trying to set out for. Also, this movie isn’t concerning itself with the other sides viewpoint, because it’s trying to convey one side’s point.

For Eastwood to do what he did in the Flags of our Fathers/Letter From Iwa Jima movies would have been ill conceived and disingenuous. The point of the film, clearly, is to show one person’s journey from finding himself to finding himself out of what is an endless sea of hurt, pain, suffering and commitment. For that, American Sniper does an excellent job and it should be noted as such.

Now, here’s where things get murky: You learn nothing about Chris Kyle other than his intentions of serving his country. You know he speaks with a southern drawl, that he is a NAVY SEAL and  that he is the deadliest sniper in American history. Is there nuance or subtlety to the character? No, there isn’t. Is there a through point to where you can identify with the main character? No, there isn’t.

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This is where the peerless direction of Clint Eastwood make the movie more than it is. On a lesser director, we’d have another ‘Murica lovin’ atrocity like Lone Survivor and Unbroken, but with Eastwood, we have a film that hits every line in an almost seamless matter. His way of presenting both Kyle and what he goes through is done in a light that, while it does nothing but show Kyle in a positive light, it shows it in such a way that you forget that the film is not particularly deep or worried about knowing the character.

And that is what makes this movie one of the best propaganda films ever made: even when it’s showing what seems to be the worst of Chris Kyle, it shows it nothing but the best of light without it being cheesy or manipulative. This may be his best directed work, including Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwa Jima and Bridges of Madison County.

His way of portraying the events is cinematic in a way that is weirdly personal without it being…personal. It’s hard to explain, but Clint Eastwood’s direction reminded me a lot of The Hurt Locker only it’s not as uncompromisingly uncomfortable or jarring. Maybe the intention was to cloak Kyle as just another soldier while he’s known as “The Legend”, but it’s a strange way of presenting a story that works quite well.

Lastly, the mere presence of Bradley Cooper is nothing short of statuesque. Cooper looks huge in a way that is intimidating to watch, yet his performance is warm enough to actually want to identify with. His way of making this character seem intimidating, heartfelt, genuine and lovable is something that is solely performance based and Cooper deserves any kudos for it.

But like it was mentioned before, you need to have depth to further understand the character, and there simply is none. Any character you encounter in the movie, whether it’s Kyle, his brother, his wife or his squad mates, there is no depth or personality other than archeatypcial placeholders.

This is what makes a movie like this fall short of greatness, like The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan. Yes, everyone will remember the beginning of Saving Private Ryan or the scenes of the soldiers in the Guadalcanal in The Thin Red Line, but it’s knowing those characters, identifying with them and pulling through for them that what makes those movies incredibly special. American Sniper has absolutely zero of that, which is why it will fall short of that watermark.

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Let be said though: This is one of the best directed films by Clint Eastwood and one of Bradley Cooper’s best performances. This film is one of the best propaganda films to come out in years, possibly in decades, and it deserves a look and dissection merely for those reasons.

Yet, the film is far from perfect and asks you to forget about knowing any of these character aside of what you want to put into it. And that may be enough for some, which is fine because there is a great movie to enjoy in this.

But it does fall short of a greatness that Eastwood could have reached and for that, it’s sad to think about.

3.5/5 – One of the best propaganda films in the past few decades. Great performance by Cooper and excellent direction by Eastwood. But there is zero depth in the characters, unfortunately.

The Wiz Says #35

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