Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Sam Jaeger, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardict
Rated: R (strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references)
Navy S.E.A.L. sniper Chris Kyle’s pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.
By Matt Greene
Eastwood is an interesting director for me. He has made some of cinemas most acclaimed and beloved films (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby), yet I often find myself on the opposing side of many people’s glowing praise of him. Despite having a powerful true-story behind it and one of the greatest trailers I’ve seen all year, American Sniper is overly preachy and a mess of war morals.
Chris Kyle’s story is undeniably telling and dramatically tragic: the most deadly Navy SEAL sniper in history learns how to deal with the things he’s seen and done while fighting the War on Terror. Cooper is REALLY good as Kyle, continuing his streak of beautifully walking the line between prestigious actor and intangible movie star. If only the script and dialogue garnered fewer eye-rolls and more genuine emotion. Honestly, it’s among the weakest and most pretentious scripts in a long time, like if Nicholas Sparks wrote an overtly jingoistic war film. While at moments it seems to want to capture the coldness of war, at others it asks us to cheer for the very things that are destroying these lives.
Part of the problem is that not too long ago Kathryn Bigelow, with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, told very similar war-ethic tales, but with better results. Both of those films represent their characters and the Iraq War with complexity and nuance, all while being gut-wrenchingly thrilling and tautly focused. American Sniper does none of these things. Instead of giving this thing anymore money, go watch the crucial and criminally under-seen Selma.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars
By Cole Schneider
The opening scene from Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” (the scene is the exact same as the original trailer) dispassionately shows a man in an ethical quandary and raises interesting, unanswerable questions. Juxtaposed to a later scene with a child and a rocket launcher, there is plenty of ammunition for a strong moral statement wrapped into a troubling personal tale, especially considering the fine acting. Unfortunately the story of Chris Kyle, the man with the most kills in American history who repeatedly braves Iraq at the expense of his family and his deteriorating mental health, never builds on that promise.
The film’s moral complexities are undercut by its simplistic view of people. There are only three types of people, the film says, and two of them are bad, the other one is Kyle. With this attitude it can’t help but fall too far into patriotic hero-worship, and that can be a very damming thing when the rest of the film insists that Kyle is an everyman and that war brings suffering to every man. It sits on the precipice of propaganda, yet it’s impossible to nail down what it’s actually selling; it feels preachy, but its sermon is muddied.
“Sniper” pretends to be an ethically challenging experience, but really it’s just pandering, and even the times when it isn’t bluntly pandering, it’s simply an inferior copycat of “The Hurt Locker”. As it is, “Sniper” magnificently creates sub-text and then dissolves it into really bad text. Some have called the film politically neutral when really it’s politically confused. It’s as if Oliver Stone directed a John Milius script. The result isn’t centered, but rather both left and right of center. Indeed, it’s never really centered or settled anywhere.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars