Clint Eastwood’s critical, box office and Academy Awards juggernaut tells the tale of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a prolific, er, American sniper, and his endeavours on and off the battlefield during the Iraq war. It’s a heavily lethargic adaptation of a heavily controversial book about a heavily divisive ‘American Hero’. Not to say that the flick itself is wildly patriotic – though the ending tries its best to disprove that – but nor is it an anti-war film, as director Eastwood haplessly attempts to argue. Which is where American Sniper’s greatest fault, among many faults, lies; it’s a film that is too afraid to carry any political heft, any commentary that would make the viewing experience worthwhile. As a result, the whole point of the film is rendered null.
A war film not bold enough to make a statement is playing it unforgivably safe and choosing to appease to a mass audience – as it did, generating almost $350 million in the US – at the expense of a weighty, powerful, good quality drama. With that choice made by Eastwood, any potential that American Sniper has is diminished. If you look at war classics – Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line – they take a memorable, bold stance at the repercussions of war (among powerful existentialism, which American Sniper doesn’t have either). American Sniper is devoid of anything remotely satisfying to take away from the ‘experience’ it offers.
It’s reluctance to carry political weight is just one of American Sniper’s many, many problems. Clint Eastwood doesn’t deal in subtlety here; the classic advice of ‘show, don’t tell’ is completely disregarded. A doctor, informing Kyle ‘Wow, your blood pressure is really high’ is laughable in execution and an incredibly clumsy way to get the character’s PTSD across; as is a TV screen overlaid by gunfire, or Kyle’s rage at a broadcasted 9/11 attack (which almost reaches Jon Voight-levels of overblown disgust). This lack of subtlety exemplifies how poorly-written and portrayed Bradley Cooper’s character is: Cooper’s does his best to present Kyle with the script he’s been given, and he does a fine job (without ever being deserving of that Oscar nomination), but Chris Kyle is a despicable human being who felt no remorse for his actions overseas, and Eastwood chooses to neglect this fact; skirting on an ‘American Hero’ interpretation before confirming it just before the ending credits. It’s a deplorable decision from Eastwood, and one that hinders his flick immediately.
This isn’t helped by his inability to inject any life into the film: the flick is lifeless, devoid of any colour or energy; even during the action sequences, this lack of life burdens scenes that would otherwise grab attention – reducing gunfire to dull echoes. There are moments of tension – the flick’s first trailer spoiling one of them – but these moments are few and far between, and are lost amid the mass of boredom presented by a seemingly bored director himself. The film’s generic, lazy score does little to redeem the continuous lull of excitement, nor does Sienna Miller’s awful, wooden performance as Kyle’s wife. The film’s only truly enjoyable moment arrives in the form of an unintentionally funny scene involving a ridiculously fake baby.
Eastwood’s Oscar darling is an American Sniper that wildly misses the target.
– Gus Edgar