America! F— … yeah, you know the rest.
When the sniper shots start hitting and the battles grow in intensity, it’s hard not to find yourself a little more patriotic than usual while watching American Sniper. That’s what a war film can do to you, even when it’s set during the recent Iraqi War.
This is Clint Eastwood’s third foray into the war film genre and it’s a good one, even if not quite great. And it might be more frustrating that all of the pieces for a spectacular film are all there but not fully explored.
American Sniper is a biopic, as the film is about the U.S. Military’s greatest sniper, Chris Kyle. Played by Bradley Cooper, the film follows Kyle’s enlistment in his mid-twenties all the way through his four, yes four, tours during the Iraq War and then into his retirement.
A Texas bronco through and through, Kyle joins the Navy SEALS and soon finds himself as their elite sniper. When he finds out he will be going to Iraq (at his own wedding no less), his reaction is one of joy, not fear or dread. War is what he was made for.
During his time in Iraq, the film sets Kyle up as a sniper (called The Legend) whose only desire is to protect his fellow soldiers, find the insurgent known as “The Butcher” and kill a rival sniper. What Kyle can’t handle is being home with his wife and kids. He isn’t haunted by what he’s seen in Iraq. It’s by the men he wasn’t able to save.
Someone described American Sniper as a Western and I think it’s an accurate description. It feels like Eastwood was aware of that and used it as a template to frame a “good” guy against the “bad” guys story. It’s a simple story and yet hints at depths it never quite digs into. PTSD. Soldiers who disagree with being in Iraq. The struggles of being a civilian post-war. We see moments, but they’re all over before we get into the heart of those issues.
And that’s not to say the film is only propaganda for the military. It doesn’t shy away from the horrors or the violence. Or images of amputees settling in to life back home. Instead, the film is much more interested in the action and sniper v. sniper storyline. The Hurt Locker did such a good job balancing those ideas while still honoring the military and being a strong war/action film. American Sniper isn’t on the same level.
Bradly Cooper gives another strong performance. His best ever as he doesn’t feel like a movie star, but more like a Texas cowboy. You see the war in his eyes and the distraction he feels when home with his wife. It’s impressive seeing him become a three-time Oscar nominee. He’ll win one of these days.
American Sniper is a very good movie. It’s going to make a ton of money and that’s good. Too bad it’s not the movie it could’ve been.