Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Produced by: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by: Jason Hall
Based on: American Sniper by Chris Kyle
Starring: Bradley Cooper
Cinematographer by: Tom Stern
Editing by: Joel Cox
Gary D. Roach
Studio(s): Village Roadshow Pictures
Mad Chance Productions
22nd & Indiana Productions
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date(s): November 11, 2014 (AFI Festival)
December 25, 2014 (United States, limited)
January 16, 2014 (United States and United Kingdom)
Running time: 132 minutes
Country: United States
Production budget: $58.8 million
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $365, 221, 115
Today's film up for review is American Sniper, an adaptation of the late Chris Kyle's autobiography of the same name, directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie is up for six Oscars at the upcoming 87th Academy Awards, and unlike many of the other seven Best Picture nominees, it has been a big box-office smash. Although all have been profitable, only The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game have passed the $100 million mark, while American Sniper has become a surprise hit, at present netting over $360 million dollars. The film has also garnered a lot of notice of a controversial, political nature, namely same contending against the depiction of and glossing over of the suffering of Iraqis and Arabs, simplistic morals and factual inaccuracies. This doesn't extend to the perhaps expected more liberal sources: in an article of Salon.com, Calvary Scout Sniper Garett Reppenhagen argued that "it offers a very limited view,"that the Iraqis "were a friendly culture who believed in hospitality, and were sometimes positive to a fault... it is shameful to know that the movie has furthered ignorance that might put them in danger." Eastwood (of whose work as a filmmaker and actor I'm a great admirer) is no stranger to controversy, especially the past few years, what with the infamously bizarre and nonsensical 'empty chair' speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention and his recent messy divorce (which is an extension in many ways of his decades-long habit of philandering), had this to say: he called it "the biggest anti-war statement any film can make" and "the fact of what [war] does to the family and to the people who have to go back to civilian life," a view also echoed by Bradley Cooper, who highlights the lack of health care for returning veterans suffering with psychological damage. The film has also received endorsements from both Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin, so for all intents and purposes it has made quite the scene. For plot synopsis, I don't need to get into too much detail (and I've blabbed a bit anyway!), so I'll just let you know that the film is follows Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), who served four tours in Iraq and became known as the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history. His wife Taya (Sienna Miller) how every time he comes home, he seems to be under increasingly intense mental stress and anxiety, putting pressure upon his family. Got it? Good!
To start off with the good, it fronted by a powerhouse of a lead performance from Bradley Cooper. For those of you who don't remember (or just forgot!), I used to be really sniffy about Cooper as an actor, dismissing him as the boring one in the Hangover bunch, which is saying something considering his much I didn't like those movies. He has increasingly impressed me since, but I think watching him in this movie if the first time I've looked at him and said "wow, that's a film star." Notwithstanding that he is absolutely massive, having bulked up for the role, and being able to vocally make us believe that a boy from Philly could play a native Texan, he lets himself get consumed with the character and is able to channel Chris Kyle emotionally into a believable part. Make no mistake, for all the character's personal flaws, this is a detailed and accomplished piece of acting from Bradley Cooper. Eastwood's regular cinematographer Tom Stern also shoots a movie that, even when are amidst the proverbial horrors of war, has a consistently good-looking unified feel to it. It's an important part of the film, keeping it contextually grounded as a whole, especially when the sequences in Iraq are juxtaposed with the domesticity of the scenes set back in America. The same can also be said of the film's design quality and overall mise-en-scene, which, while also in keeping with a detailed level of realism, fits in with the tone and atmosphere of the picture. One of the more interesting aspects is the distinct lack of a musical score. This is unusual, even for Eastwood as a director, who often performs his jazz-inclined piano-led compositions for his own films. However, it works well for the film, creating an aura of tension in the absence of a score, and enables for the sound design to be incorporated in helping explore the mental psyche of Chris Kyle. This, in conjunction with the solid stunt work and action choreography, makes for some intense battle scenes. Finally, it's a return to positive directing form for the veteran filmmaker Eastwood who, after the 2008 double-header of the grossly-overlooked Changeling and Gran Torino, wavered off with inferior work such as Hereafter and J. Edgar. It proves, to use a cliche, that there's still fight in the old dog yet, and that the eighty-four-year old is still a more than capable pair of hands when it comes to taking the reigns and helming a major release.
So, yes, I liked American Sniper. For all the political controversy and the fact that my own personal politics like very much elsewhere to that of the film, I still consider it a very good film. However, I do not think that it is a great film, and here's why. For starters, there are a few central problems with the script which make me feel this way. The first arises from the characters, for while Chris Kyle himself is well-explored, as far an ensemble goes, it's pretty weak. I felt that Sienna Miller's character of Taya lacked the three-dimensional qualities necessary for a part so integral to the plot, and that most of the characters, both on the American and Iraqi side of things, felt like a revolving series of tropes and stock parts. There's some scenes which are meant to be very harrowing, such as those involving Kyle's fallen comrades, and yet I couldn't garner sympathy for these losses because I didn't get to know them well enough as characters. Furthermore, while the film may have a political agenda, it made that agenda feel too propagandistic, almost too celebratory, blinded to the bigger picture. Propaganda is not synonymous with a lack of quality (Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin is still one of the most powerful films out there), but you've got to have something to back it up. Another problem that emerged from this was that a number of scenes were over-expository and didn't feel a necessary part of the story, detracting from the true focus of the tale. Also, speaking of focus, I felt that the editing by Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach, who both edited on Eastwood's own superior Iwo Jima war films (Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima), was not up to scratch. This lack of focus, and especially drawing out of scenes longer than necessary, took away from the urgency of what was happening in some of the film's scenes.
To conclude, while I had a problem with the script, which had, aside from the part of Chris Kyle, a severe lack of strong characters, making the film feel negatively propagandistic ('Murica!), and contained unfocused editing, I largely liked American Sniper and thought it was very good. It's fronted by a powerhouse central performance from Bradley Cooper, Eastwood's regular DP Tom Stern gives the film a unified look and feel, which works very well with the overall mise-en-scene. Also, the lack of a musical score opens the doors for sound design to help explore Kyle's mental psyche, which, in conjunction with the solid stunt work and action choreography, makes for some intense battle scenes. Finally, it's a return to positive form for the veteran filmmaker Clint Eastwood, who proves he's still more than capable of helming a major motion-picture release.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.7/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Buzzing (busy and having to get on with tings!)