Wednesday, January 28, 2015

American Sniper

by Simon Mansell, Writing Intern

Photo: Keith Bernstein, Warner Bros. Pictures
Due to this film's plot, glorification of the main character, message, and a boatload of nominations, it’s steeped in controversy. American Sniper does a lot of things right--in some cases perfectly. But several missteps keep it paces behind more worthy films like Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher.

The film follows the true story of Chris Kyle, the man with the most [verified] kills in US military history. Among his fellow soldiers, he reached “legend” status. He begins as a cowboy. Then, he decides to train with the US military to become a Navy SEAL. He meets his future wife. They have two children. But the story focuses on the journey from aspiring cowboy, to lethal killing machine on the frontline. It deals with the countless tours and kills and how that affects him when he isn't in a warzone.

Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle. He gives one of the best performances of his career here. Personally, I still believe that his performance in Silver Linings Playbook was his best. However, none of his previous roles required Cooper to go to such a dark and intense place. Not only does Cooper look like the guy, he maintains a consistent Texan accent throughout the film. Also, he gives us a very disturbed, yet determined protagonist. Cooper got the Academy nomination for the role, but Gyllenhaal was better in Nightcrawler; he didn't get nominated. However, I take nothing away from Cooper's performance. Other notable performances include Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Sam Jaeger and Cory Hardrict who all give memorable performances. The supporting cast fuel the story, and have great chemistry with Cooper.

As mentioned earlier in the review, this film has very high points and very low points. First off, this is some of the best directing that Clint Eastwood has done in a long, long time. This is perhaps his best film since Million Dollar Baby. The way that he gets such emotional performances from the actors is tremendous; he moulds a complex story well. Also, the script is fantastic. It contains truly heart felt moments, but it never felt boring. The film relies on banter between the characters to brighten that dark tone. This worked well as it makes those more intense and dark scenes more effective and impactful. That dynamic prevented any emotional burnout that could occurred in the first act.

Now, for those low points. For me, they focused so hard on the actual in-war part of Chris Kyle's life that we never really saw the impact it had on him when he returned home. From what I've read, he was a sick and twisted killer. That story may have been an honest representation of the real man--and added some needed grit. This leads to my main concern with the film. The film is very, very pro America. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but context matters. In a film like this, it comes off as preachy and deceiving. Every nation has some dark history and truly triumphant moments, but the film makes America out to be the saving grace of the world. Like every other country, America sparks wars and riots.

Some call this film racist. Allegedly, it paints Islam as terrorism and a constant danger. I don't essentially agree with those sentiments; I don't exactly disagree with them either. There are scenes in this film where, if you are from an Islamic background, then you will be offended. I feel that maybe Eastwood and the producers, could have really shown a few of America's bad bits and how even though they stared Kyle in the face, he ignored them--determined to defend his country.

Overall, I will give American Sniper an 8.4/10. It’s a fantastic film by one of the greatest actors and directors of our time, but it’s no masterpiece thanks to storytelling issues and glorification of an awful subject matter. Just to clarify, I am not in any way defending terrorism. I hope American readers haven't found this offensive. I feel it is a key to be subjective, to allow the audience decide whether or not to see a film. In the case of American Sniper, it’s necessary to warn Islamic audiences and others, of the perhaps offensive way that their culture is portrayed in the film. 


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