Sunday, December 28, 2014

American Sniper

AMERICAN SNIPER: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, directed by Clint Eastwood (134 min.)

American Sniper tells the fascinating and unbelievable story of Chris Kyle in very conventional ways. There is some wonderful tension in a few scenes, moments that are hard to watch, and Bradley Cooper absolutely shines in the role of Kyle, a man conflicted about where he belongs. But Eastwood's direction feels uninspired at times, and tension is lacking where it should be palpable. I enjoyed certain elements of the film, no doubt, but it could have been better.

Cooper packed on some pounds to portray Kyle, the Navy SEAL who was credited with 160 kills by military officials (although the real number is probably north of 200). Eastwood, going off the book written by Kyle and Jason Hall, paints a picture of the solider as a man who yearns to help people in every avenue of his life. It is what drives him to the Navy, where he joins the SEALs and blossoms as a sniper. In the meantime, he meets Taya, a headstrong young woman played by Sienna Miller in a sturdy performance. Taya and Chris fall in love, marry, and start a family right about the time he is called into active duty.

The film then falls into the conventional back and forth between Kyle at home and his four tours in Iraq. In Iraq, Kyle becomes a legend as a deadly assassin. "Men feel invincible when you're up there," a solider tells him. But when he returns home, he feels lost, ordinary, not like a legend. Eastwood doesn't drive home the isolation he feels at home quite as much as he should, instead he has Taya chastise hime for not talking enough. Taya tells where the film should show. I would have liked a few more scenes to open up the domestic segments. Instead, we return too quickly to the battlefield where the tension is too sporadic.

There are true moments of exhilaration when Kyle is leading his men into battle. There is a sandstorm near the end that is as well executed as anything of its kind, and a brutal shootout near the middle involving a child that I would rather not see again. But, as a whole, the sequences in Iraq are unremarkable. There is a glaring need for a stronger supporting cast around Cooper. Kyle's friends are forgettable as actors where they should have stronger more memorable personalities. The stakes do not feel as high as they should feel given the situations. Outside Cooper's performance as Kyle, there is not enough emotion driving the film.

The final few moments are strong, as Kyle leaves the military and eventually finds a place in the real world helping returning soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As most know by know (spoiler for anyone who doesn't), Kyle was killed by one of those very soldiers he was trying to help in February 2013. The most heart wrenching moments of the entire film are the last moments with Cooper as Kyle, and the subsequent credit sequence where we see the real memorial for Kyle stretching down miles of highway, filled on every side by supporters waving American flags.

Psychologically, American Sniper doesn't do the conflict in Chris Kyle justice in my opinion. Atleast, not on an even basis. The most fascinating element of Kyle's personality comes in the battle scenes, where his ego drives him back for more in order to hunt down and kill a sniper working for the Iraqis, and the moments in the end when he is adrift in the real world. But then again, what is real? To Kyle, reality may have been on the other side of the world.