FILM REVIEW: American Sniper

American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014)

I told my friend with a sigh that I’d heard this was really pro-America and pro-guns. She responded: “Well it is called American Sniper”. So I guess I walked into that one. As someone who identifies as anti-war and anti-guns, I went into this film tentatively. Obviously I wasn’t going to miss it because it’s nominated for best picture at the Oscars, stars B-Coop, and is directed by Clint Eastwood (he may be a Republican but he makes great movies). Though some have accused the film of a pro-war stance, it wasn’t the right-wing bullshit that I’d feared. Then again, maybe it was just that good I got totally sucked in without even realising it.

B-Coop
B-Coop

Based on his autobiography of the same name, American Sniper details Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s (Bradley Cooper) four tours of Iraq in which he killed over 160 people (the real figure is assumed to be closer to 250). This made him a hero to the American public, though this label is obviously debatable – some of his targets were children and can a child-killer really be called a hero? In 2013, Kyle was murdered by a fellow war veteran at a shooting range – the reason for this remains unclear.

This just doesn't strike me as hero material
Chris Kyle – somehow he just doesn’t strike me as hero material

American Sniper isn’t without its problems – perhaps most notably that it suggests that 9/11 was the catalyst for the War in Iraq, rather than a misinformed belief about WMDs. As someone pretty ignorant about such events, I was nearly convinced by this suggestion, and no doubt many viewers will accept this too readily. Clint Eastwood has, however, expressed a stance against the Iraq war in the past, and his inclusion of Kyle’s experiences with PTSD demonstrates the toll that war takes on a man. On the other hand, as much as I oppose killing/war/the death penalty, when a man is shown amputating a child’s limb with a drill, I wanted that son-of-a-bitch dead too. Very few are likely to feel differently, but it’s unclear how realistically American Sniper portrays the necessity of so many kills.

He feels guilty... but only when his mates die
He feels guilty… but only when his mates die

Like in the recent The Imitation Game, I wondered why the filmmakers chose to end with the death of the protagonist merely included in post-script. Why omit such a major event? Is it because they wanted to avoid portraying the downside of legal firearms? Or because they thought showing it would glorify his killer? Or because his family didn’t want them to? His father reportedly issued threats to Eastwood and Cooper that he would “unleash hell” if they didn’t respect his son’s memory, and if their portrayal of him (Kyle’s father) is anything to go by, he is a bit of a douche. If you think that shooting animals is a good father-son bonding exercise, I urge you to get psychological help. Ditto for teaching your kids that aggression should be fought with further aggression. This is why wars start in the first place!

Apparently it is Sienna Miller this time
Apparently it is Sienna Miller this time

Bradley Cooper reckons he got to eat 6000 calories a day in preparation for this role. Just think of how much pizza that could be! And he didn’t even have to get toned! Though he actually is deadlifting the 425 pounds worth of weights in one scene, apparently. What. A. Freak. (I’m told by a fitness expert that the 6000 calories is probably untrue though – dammit!) Aside from the whole “oh wow he made such a physical transformation for this role” plaudits (and really, it can hardly count as suffering if you’re allowed to eat THAT much) he is pretty damn impressive. Third year in a row he’s got an Oscar nom – PREACH! Bad news for the ladies – he’s not really that hot here – but more importantly, he is convincing. In exciting news for Broadway fans, Jonathan Groff makes a surprise appearance (in just one scene) and I was also taken back to my teen years when Eric Close from Now and Again popped up (remember that show where John Goodman died and woke up young and hot?!) I spent half the film wondering if Sienna Miller was actually Sienna Miller (the same thing happened when I saw Transcendence except it was actually Kate Mara that time). Did she have a nose job? I have to say, her fake American accent was impressive. The fake baby, however, was pretty terrible, though I don’t know if I would have noticed if I hadn’t been alerted to it prior to seeing the film.

It's pretty bad...
It’s pretty bad…

Clint Eastwood knows how to direct. He maintains tension and the editing here is slick. None of that hand-held, darkly lit crap we often see in war films. Though one major plot development did get a bit lost and I know I’m not the only one who missed it. To its credit American Sniper doesn’t feel nearly as long as it is, coming in at 132 minutes. And thank god for directors like Clint who know how to make a decent trailer. Release it shortly before the film’s release and just include the first scene of the movie. THAT’S HOW IT’S DONE! Take note, dickheads who show the entire film in the trailer.

Bradley Cooper giving some moral complexity to his character
Bradley Cooper giving some moral complexity to his character

As with his last film Jersey Boys, Eastwood once again seems intent on appealing to everyone, but in refusing to commit strongly to one angle, he may not quite satisfy anyone completely. Nevertheless, his depiction of Kyle’s involvement in Iraq is an admirable effort, even if it does remain morally ambiguous. Personal politics aside, there’s no denying the film is well made. If you can handle war films (i.e. lots of death), give this one a… er… shot.

4 stars

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