American Sniper is a tough movie to review. I'm going to start here by making things easier on myself. I'm NOT going to delve into the politics of the movie. That's an entirely different conversation, and one that will no doubt come up between friends or loved ones who go along together to see the film in cinemas. I'm also not going to try to pin down the REAL character of Chris Kyle, the man portrayed here by Bradley Cooper. The movie plays out in the style of "print the legend" so let's just leave it at that.
Cooper is the man who turns out to be a bloody good shot, leading to him heading off on multiple tours of Iraq. He has a lovely wife (Sienna Miller) waiting for him at home, but civilian life is hard to adjust to when his natural state has seen him poised with a rifle for so many hours. He shoots lots of bad people, of course, and becomes a bit famous, but not in a good way. No, the baddies put a price on his head because he's causing them so many problems. And . . . . . . . well, that's it.
Written by Jason Hall, who was adapting the tale as told in the book written by Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim Defelice, this is surprisingly shallow stuff. It's also riveting at times. That's the nature of this material. One man with his finger on a trigger, waiting to make the right call every time he sees a potential threat. It's just a shame that nothing else is added to the content. We see Kyle as a sniper. We see him as a husband. Each scene, whether he's in the former role or latter, seems to be little more than a repeat of the previous one, with the exception of the opening flashbacks that show how he got to his current position.
Director Clint Eastwood should have been able to lift this up, to look at the central subject from all angles and create a number of more interesting moments, but he doesn't. Whether he was playing it safe to ensure no disrespect to his central subject or whether he just didn't put in enough effort, either reason doesn't make up for this being such a disappointment.
Cooper is great in the lead role, bulked up and happiest while looking down the barrel of his gun. It's a good job too, because only Sienna Miller makes an impression alongside him. Everyone else is either a fellow soldier or an enemy fighter, with scarcely enough detailing to differentiate any individuals on either side of the battle.
So, as it turns out, American Sniper is, when everything else is set aside, not such a tough movie to review. It's just a shame that everything I've set aside here was also set aside by Hall and Eastwood, effectively neutering what could have been a great character study.
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