Review: American Sniper
Read Chris Bumbray's review here
PLOT: The story of late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle's journey to becoming America's most deadliest sniper, known as "The Legend," as he tries to balance his passion for serving his country with the love he has for his wife and kids back home, eventually forced to confront his experiences at war and come to grips with life outside of it.
REVIEW: Chris Kyle, America’s Deadliest Sniper (160 confirmed kills, with nearly 100 more unconfirmed), is a controversial figure. Known as “The Legend” for his feats accomplished at war, the mantra has taken on new meaning since the former SEAL was murdered in 2013. I suspect that AMERICAN SNIPER will only further that name as it makes its way out to theatergoers. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring a buffed-up and bearded Bradley Cooper, AMERICAN SNIPER hits some targets, but misses a few others. It’s a gripping account of Kyle’s life, replete with expected tropes and some genuine moments that speak more about veterans as a whole than just Kyle alone. As a combat veteran and all-around movie nerd, that's something that speaks to me.
The film gives a small glimpse into Kyle’s back story, where his personality as a protector is forged, and quickly glosses over his Navy SEAL indoctrination before jumping into the brutal intensity of his war experiences. Cooper is a near spitting image of Kyle, embodying the spirit, swagger, and physical presence that Kyle was known for. It’s a performance that will likely sail under the radar, but it absolutely captures the essence of Kyle, who was a man of strong convictions, for better or for worse, and rarely let the seal break on his inner demons. But, like most combat vets, there comes a point when they have to be confronted and Cooper nails the nuance of a warrior struggling to come to grips with his life when the war is over for him. He embodies "The Legend" with raw, down-to-Earth humanity, showing a true unraveling of a man struggling with his ideals while trying to uphold them. If there’s one drawback to Cooper’s performance it’s that he didn’t get enough opportunities to show the more wild and rambunctious side of Kyle, although he gets enough to paint a true picture of the man.
Sienna Miller does a fine job as Kyle’s wife, Taya, but there’s a side of her story missing here that deserved more attention. The truth is that military spouse’s do spend a lot of time alone, waiting on pins and needles for their loved one to return, but some interactive scenes of Miller with other spouses or friends would’ve given her some more depth and perspective. As it is, she spends the film sharing scenes either with Cooper or alone in a room and that’s just not enough to give her the depth she deserves.
While the majority of the film focuses on Kyle’s wartime exploits, there’s a balance of the aforementioned “at home” scenes, including the in-between deployment sequences of Kyle trying to adjust to civilian life, yet never switching off the soldier life. For me, those scenes hit the hardest. With two wars going on simultaneously and soldiers being pulled back for another deployment every other year (or sooner), the ability to “switch off” is near impossible, especially for those in combat arms, who spend every waking minute preparing for a fight. With looming deployments on the horizon, you fear losing your edge, which inhibits you from ever truly relaxing and those scenes are thankfully on display here. It’s a picture of the real struggle that all Vets face when they’ve hung up their rifle for good.
The issues I have with AMERICAN SNIPER are more about the style. Clint Eastwood is an accomplished director, having made a bevy of classic films, but his stripped down style is all too noticeable here. Fans of his work will recognize this immediately (and some may take no issue at all), but I can’t help but wonder what someone like Spielberg (who was originally tapped to direct), Fincher, or even LONE SURVIVOR’s Peter Berg would’ve done with the film. There are some rousing sequences, but many are jilted and just shy of excellence. Still, that doesn’t diminish what Eastwood has accomplished and there are some truly captivating, gut-wrenching scenes, many of which rang all too true. Stylistically, though, I think things could’ve been sharper.
The other issue I have with the film is the lack of real back-up players. The real-life characters of Marc Lee (Luke Grimes) and Biggles (Jake McDorman) are integral to Kyle’s story, but the interactions with them don’t give us enough to really connect, which is unfortunate given how much they played into his life. The actors were on point, but they simply didn’t get the background or interaction that was needed to leave them ingrained in our psyche, which is what was sorely needed. The effort was made to personalize them, but it just didn’t bear enough fruit to make the full investment. Ultimately, this is Kyle’s story and Cooper brings that to the forefront, but a little more back-up would’ve gone a long way.
There’s plenty of debate over the film’s authenticity in terms of the events portrayed, but the majority of it is in Kyle’s book, which doesn’t have much of a narrative structure. In that sense, the film pieces events together in a more fluid fashion than the book, which is mostly a series of non-interconnecting vignettes. A rumored Olympic Iraqi sniper takes on the form of an adversary that Kyle faces off with throughout the film, which could easily be viewed as a metaphoric villain. There are a few notable omissions, including a rumored carjacking and a famous punch out, but neither is necessary. Nor is any true political stance, as the film isn’t about politics. Nor is being a soldier. Kyle wore that on his sleeve, as do most of us. “We don’t choose our wars.” Like it or not, that’s the truth for a soldier and it’s also the scar we carry for the nation we represent.
AMERICAN SNIPER is an important film, especially for vets (and even moreso for combat vets). It’s not a flag-waving affair and indeed asks the question that all troops eventually ask; “What’s it all for?” The near complete lack of a film score lets you dictate your own emotions throughout as well, never leading you to feel any certain way during some of the particularly harrowing scenes. Films like this tell our story and it makes a difference in how they’re told. Fortunately, what AMERICAN SNIPER lacks in style, it makes up for in both Cooper’s performance as Kyle and the struggle he portrays as a man forever altered by war, seeking to find his identity when it’s over. It’s old-fashioned, occasionally rousing, occasionally cheesy, and genuine to the plight of the American Soldier. Many toil over Kyle’s personality and exploits, some calling him a hero, serial killer, warrior, racist, father, sociopath, husband, frogman, or liar. I think Kyle would smile at that. “The Legend” indeed.
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...