Clint Eastwood is still very productive at the age of 84 with his second movie coming out in less than a year. His old age may be starting to show, though, due to the lack of direction in his films, which was the major problem with Jersey Boys which came out last June. Now comes American Sniper, the true-story biopic of Chris Kyle, the most deadly sniper in American history. While it does boast a tremendous performance from Bradley Cooper, it lacks the precision of its subject, making one feel that Eastwood was not aiming with both eyes open.
We follow Chris from some of his earliest days in Texas, to some of his later years as a wannabe cowboy. When 9/11 happens, he finds a deep sense of patriotic duty in himself, so he enlists as a Navy Seal. He meets Taya, who soon becomes his wife, and then ships off to Iraq. His skill with a sniper rifle makes him known as “The Legend.” People recognize him and discuss rumors about his supposed kills. When he returns home, he experiences hints of PTSD but also an overwhelming desire to return and finish the job—a lesson his father hammered into his young impressionable mind.
Bradley Cooper dives deep into this role and never comes up for air. He reaches depths that he has never reached before. Chris Kyle is an extremely complex person to portray. On one hand he has an immense love for the country, on the other he is placed in exceptionally difficult situations where he must decide whether to pull the trigger or not. Cooper handles this complexity with great restraint. He never lets his status get to him, rather he just wants to get his job done. His handling of PTSD is also commendable, and at times heartbreaking as we see him descend into an almost addiction-riddled man who cannot find solace in the comfort of his own home with his family. But even though his performance is phenomenal, it isn’t really anything new in terms of other films that have dealt with PTSD, so we can certainly thank Cooper for bringing it home or else it would have just felt like a rehashing of previously made war films. Nevertheless, it definitely is one of Cooper’s best performances ever, and a true testament to his ability to handle a plethora of different roles.
The only other truly recognizable name in the cast is Sienna Miller who plays Chris’ wife, Taya, and she too is great. Though she is greatly overshadowed by Cooper who is more of the focus here, she stands tall enough to give us more of an emotional tie to what he has back home. The problem with the focus solely on Chris is we never get enough backstory or screen time with anybody else. This makes it hard to feel any sympathy or emotion for anybody else who dies, and the lives Chris is saving (or not saving for that matter) do not carry an emotional weight.
The previews for this film tend to be misleading in what the film actually presents. Most of the film takes place overseas in a sort of pseudo-Hurt Locker type action movie, which does not add much to the war genre. The combat is exciting, but it is not anything to write home about. This severely hinders the film because most of the film takes place in various forms of combat. The problem this presents is the fact that with the majority of the film taking place in combat situations, we never get time to see any real “acting” from Cooper. We do not get enough time with him in his home-life, which makes the film suffer on the emotional side. The scenes we do get with him dealing with his thoughts are nothing quite fresh due to the fact that they were all in the trailers. There are no real surprises in the film, and even the tough decisions he must make are already in the back of your mind if you have seen at least one preview. When we get to the end, we never get much emotional closure on Chris’ character, and the several years that the film covers at the end get rushed through in about ten minutes. Perhaps a narrower scope would have saved this bullet from missing its mark.
In the end, American Sniper does not offer anything new to the Iraq War-film. Cooper’s performance is the highlight in a pretty generic take on one man’s war with himself and with the “savages” in Iraq. The moral choices he must face would have perhaps been more impactful if they had been more of the focus, but when most of the film feels like an action movie, it is hard to zero in on the immense pain and trauma Chris must have been facing during all of this. Clint Eastwood once again shows that he cannot find one aspect of a great story to focus on in order to make it more impactful. American Sniper is a fine film, but one that suffers greatly from a continuing trend of lackadaisical direction. If you’re a fan of Bradley Cooper and war-films, this one is for you, but if you’re expecting more than just a great performance, aim your sights elsewhere.