Oscar Nominee Review: ‘ American Sniper’


Previously: The Theory of Everything  The Imitation Game  The Grand Budapest Hotel  Birdman

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner

Plot: Based on an autobiography of a well known US Marine Sniper whose life at home becomes inseparable with his role of a military hero.

Review: Here’s a movie that has the audience divided. Some has criticised the positive portrayal of gun culture and the military, others the representation of Arab people. On the other hand Eastwood’s films do prove highly popular and this is a topical time for this story to be told.

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Although Eastwood’s style is far from flashy, it is solid. The movie doesn’t dawdle at any point, keeping each part of the story brief and to the point, relying on juxtaposition to set the stage rather than exposition and overt emoting. Sequences that take place during conflict keep things grounded and visceral when needed. Kyle makes for an interesting subject matter, being a US sniper in the Middle East who collected between 160 and 255 kills in the field.

Whilst watching the movie it occurred on more than one occasion that American Sniper isn’t saying anything that previous Oscar winner The Hurt Locker did in a much more nuanced fashion. Sequences in American Sniper aim for ethically conflicted but feel heavy handed, such as when a child picks up an RPG and Kyle is uncertain as to what to do. Granted it’s based on Kyle’s own account but he had already been called out on taking liberties with the truth and one can’t help but question some of these depictions.

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Ultimately the story is down to Kyle’s inability to to readjust to a normal life following his strict father and time in service. By the end of the movie he’s managed to find peace by helping veterans wounded or traumatised in the war. There are still many aspects of this story that feel like they would be more interesting. The fact that Kyle had killed enough people to make most serial killers wince gets mentioned but not explored. Examining why these actions have cast him as a hero in the eyes of the wider public would be an interesting psychological study of the population.

By the end we’ve got a somewhat dry account of a man’s life becoming a hero in the military and who he found personal salvation helping others. It doesn’t define the genre or cinema as a whole and is unlikely to be remembered far into the future. Not bad by any stretch of the word – Bradley Cooper puts in a good if mumbly performance – but it’s not a Earth shaking film. Contributing to a hollow feeling is the saccharine sweet closing scene followed by a title card declaring that Kyle was murdered by a Vet he was helping rehabilitate. This raises plenty more questions, none of which the film is capable of answering because the case hasn’t even gone to trail yet.

Maybe they’re hoping for a sequel.

Score: SIX out of TEN

Chances of Winning: There might be a patriotic vote but overall the film has split critics a bit to much for it to pull in a majority. It’s not one of Eastwood’s best films and without the Best Director nominee it feels like it’s just rounding out the ballot rather than acting as a major contender. 

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