As a biopic, it's just fine. As a war film, American Sniper has the potential to be great.
Telling the true story of Chris Kyle, “The Deadliest Marksman in U.S. history,” Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort American Sniper, is a well acted, constantly engaging but dramatically underwhelming war film. Based on Kyle’s autobiography, it recounts how the Texas born rodeo cowboy (Bradley Cooper) suddenly enlisted in the Navy Seals after witnessing television coverage of the terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Following 9/11 he is deployed in Iraq as a Sniper, whereupon he earns himself the title of a “legend” for his outstanding performance. Yet after he completes his first tour, and returns to his wife (Sienna Miller) and children, he still feels compelled to reenlist.
Working well when it focuses on Kyle’s remarkable career instead of his unremarkable personal life, American Sniper would have perhaps been better executed as a sustained look at Kyle’s several tours in Iraq, like The Hurt Locker for snipers. It’s not that the domestic moments are bad, they’re just really heavy handed and take a lot of time to say something that was already clear. The effects of the war on Kyle are evident enough without the film having to stop in it’s tracks to laboriously point it out. This is perhaps best encapsulated in the moments where sonic flashbacks of the war (sounds of helicopters and gunfire) play over Kyle with his children. They aren’t necessary and things would be a hell of a lot more chilling and disturbing without them. But Bradley Cooper does give a strong performance and pulls off his Texan accent. Additionally his chemistry with Miller is convincing, which makes those iffy domestic scenes a little easier to swallow.
The film attempts to examine exactly what makes Kyle feel like it is his duty to put his life in danger again and again and why he feels compelled to single-handedly deal with the “evil” he perceives around him. It does a fair job of this, but it does it best when it feels like it isn’t cramming it down your throat. If Eastwood credited his audience with a little more intelligence American Sniper could maybe live up to its intention. Instead it feels a bit more run of the mill.
Still the same cannot be said of the spectacular war scenes. The film has obvious Oscar ambitions, but in all honesty it’s best viewed as an action film, because when it is viewed that way, it’s actually really intense and thrilling. It’s also a bonus that things are shot with a steady hand, instead of the usual shaky cam, Saving Private Ryan style.
American Sniper (2014), directed by Clint Eastwood is distributed in UK cinemas by Warner Bros., certificate 15.