Genre: Action, Biography, Drama
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Ben Reed
Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is undoubtedly a provocative film, and it’s a difficult task to gauge one’s opinion after watching it. The ‘opinion’ of the film is certainly clear, as can be seen from its portrayal of protagonist Chris Kyle’s ‘work’. Yet Sniper’s biggest problem is not it’s bias. Countless films from both sides of the many different spectrums – be it war, politics, sexuality, feminism – come down hard on one side of the fence. Here it’s the fact that American Sniper can’t decide what kind of film it wants to be, and this is its most significant flaw.
The movie’s chronology is simple enough as it follows Kyle, a US Navy SEAL sniper responsible for 160 confirmed and a further 95 unconfirmed kills, through his three tours of Iraq and during his periods back home as he struggles to acclimatise to ‘normal life’ with his wife Taya and two young children. Such a life is eventful enough for a strong plot to be based upon, yet the script and direction never find a unified concept to tie the film together.
At times, Sniper is a psychological exploration of it’s central character, attempting to breach the psyche of Kyle, a man portrayed on screen as calculated and resolute in the morality of his profession, while also someone who takes no joy from any individual assault (an interpretation at odds with various excerpts from interviews with Kyle where he glorifies his work with abandon.) Had this idea been carried throughout the entirety of the film, then perhaps one could understand the universal acclaim that has been attached. But the portrayal of Kyle’s psychological harm is neither nuanced nor direct enough to make any kind of meaningful statement.
At one key point the film presents a ‘bullet-time’ effect reminiscent of the game Sniper Elite to portray Kyle’s kill of his on-screen ‘nemesis’, his opposing sniper. This speaks to neither the psychological state of Kyle, nor the overall concept of war and is a wholly gratuitous moment, one that I doubt would be enjoyed by the very demographic it was aimed at.
Within American Sniper lies a jumble of ideas, stitched together like some bizarre Jackson Pollock version of a war film. As comparisons go, the most apt is to Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. That particular film goes to some lengths to justify the work of the soldiers during the Battle of Mogadishu, and is far more pro-war than Sniper. Yet it also makes a statement on the bloody nature of warfare, and on the toll it takes at a human level. By contrast, Sniper just feels a bit bland.
This is despite the efforts of a respectable cast. Bradley Cooper is solid in his characterisation of Kyle, while Sienna Miller makes the best of what she has to work with as Taya. As is the norm with the broader genre that Sniper sits in, much of the rest of the cast are nothing more than background noise, be they ‘generic solider’ or ‘generic Iraqi’.
Amidst the natural tension and provocative context, American Sniper fails to be much more than an mediocre effort, never going far enough in any direction to illicit a meaningful answer to take away.