American Sniper
Acting
Directing
Script
Cinematography
Timeless
  • Well shot with shocking yet beautiful violence
  • Entertaining action drama and a decent Iraq drama
  • Way to “Murrica” for my taste
  • Celebrating a war hero who did terrible things
3.0Overall Score

The Oscars already seem so long away, but nevertheless I had to complete my mission to see all movies in the race. So there I was after a long week of work in San Francisco, and what would somebody do if he is in SF on a Friday night all by himself, he goes to the movies alone with a total of 10 other folks in a 150+ people theater. But well, it was for “work” and I didn’t really have a choice. Before you start reading this review, I want to let you know that there are some spoilers ahead and also I would recommend not to read up on the real Chris Kyle before watching the movie; after having done all that, please come back and read this review.

Alright, I’m getting totally off topic, so let’s focus on American Sniper (no pun intended). The movie telling the story of the deadliest sniper in US history and his quarrels in and ouside the warzone of Iraq in the post-911 world. This review is a really hard one to write as I will have to try and separate the movie as a piece of art and entertainment on the one hand and the biopic about an American war “hero” who fought and believed in a cause which I not only don’t believe in but also despise to a certain extent. And so my first thought after walking out of the theatre and thinking about the film on my way home was the following. I think the movie is well shot and would hold up ok as pure action entertainment piece but it falls short to provide a more nuanced view of its main character and his values which are more than questionable.

Now again to preface this review, I just want to say that I love the US and being back in SF showed me how much I miss the little beauties of American life. What does this have to do with anything you ask (if you haven’t stopped reading by now)? Well, the tale of this movie is way too “murica” for my taste; it is very black and white and too “They are the bad guys, we are the good guys”. And I get that this film is shot based on a book which was written from the point of the view of the real Chris Kyle. And probably the points made in this film were a 100% match to his value system, and maybe that is why he became the “hero” he was who marked more than 160 kills in his tours in Iraq. But that is exactly my problem, never in the movie does it question the morale of his “legend”. The country is at war – I get that – but aside from the fact that it was a partly imperialistic unjustified mission, US soldiers still went into a country where they weren’t necessarily welcome and both actively (and as the movie shows) passively killed innocent people (and that is as political as I want to get here).

Courtesy of http://blogs.wjs.com

Courtesy of http://blogs.wjs.com

If this movie wanted to be just an action movie or war thriller with a Homeland-esque touch (“Here is the bad guy terrorist, No.2 at Al-Queada…let’s go get him”), I would not be as critical but this movie wants to portray the story of a war hero and his struggles. Chris Kyle’s character remains completely detached from his family and the arch of how he finds peace is poorly portrayed and clunky scripting. Throughout the entire film he is driven by making sure that “those savages” won’t make it “to San Diego and New York”. And then there is this “other” sniper who is the evil counterpart of Chris Kyle along with the almost comical evil person on the Al-Queda side. The way these characters were placed in the film were mostly bad scripting to visualise and justify the motivations of the main character and his drive to go back to Iraq. In addition, I found the twist or the healing process of Chris Kyle to be somewhat poorly executed. Is killing another sniper (on top of the other 159 confirmed kills) and then helping out other soldiers all it takes to be a normal person? More than once, Bradley Cooper emphasises that “they are the bad guys, they are savages”. Maybe that simple view is what it takes to be as good as he was at his “job” of taking out the enemy even if it meant to shoot down a 5 year old kid. But in today’s society, after years of the war on terror with so many casualties on both sides, I would expect that a high profile Hollywood drama such as American Sniper takes a more differentiated view on the events in Iraq. Thinking further about this film, I am also highly unsure if I like the celebration of America Sniper as war hero both in- and outside this film; more than once, the film literally celebrates the 160 confirmed kills of Chris Kyle – is that really something we want to celebrate as a society?

american-sniper-6So above was the more non-movie focused part of my review, now let’s switch gears and look at the film as pure piece of cinematic art. The way Eastwood chose to shot this film is clean, straight-forward and violent in beautiful and yet shocking way. The arch of its main actor is almost too straightforward, too simple in order to be believable. And often time, Eastwoods hits us on the nose to make a point e.g. Bradley Cooper does not say a word at home and just hears war noises, next moment you see him being back in Iraq, focused, charming and shooting the shit with his buddies. Yes, we got it, this man needs war, he needs the adrenaline and he needs the “moving target”. From an acting perspective, Bradley Cooper does a decent (but not outstanding) job to portray the driven, conflicted and black-and-white character of Chris Kyle. I did like the character of his wife played by Sienna Miller a little better, as she was able to convey the conflict of loving a soldier much better – aside from some script holes. Having said that, now that the Oscar ceremony is over, I do have to say that I absolutely can’t belive that American Sniper was able to snub films like Selma and Nightcrawler. They are better in almost every aspect and especially for the best actor category, Bradley Cooper was not even near David Oyelowo or Jake Gyllenhaal. Also thinking about the best picture, Gone Girl was a significantly better film – again mostly in every aspect it got snubbed. Looking into the (anti)-war movie category, I also feel that other similar movies such as The Hurt Locker did a much better job to provide a more nuanced depiction of war and its aftermath.

In the end, I was entertained when watching this film. It was well-shot and focused on the story it wanted to tell (but too un-nuanced). And probably, Clint Eastwood just has a different view on how he wanted to tell the story and what he wanted to tell – but he also talks to chairs sometimes. In the end, I do understand that if you are in war, you want somebody like Chris Kyle having your back. And to the many soldiers he saved, he is a hero but for me the movie left a bitter taste about the view on both war in itself and the war on terror fought overseas in countries torn up by this very same effort. But that is just my opinion, see for yourself.

Info

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  • Running time: 132 min
  • Genre: Action, Drama, Biopic
  • Year: 2014

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