Oscars 2015 Contender Film Review: "American Sniper"
Clint Eastwood Wins Back Respect With Another Timeless Meditation on Human Frailty
After a poor showing with his earlier film "Jersey Boys" last year, Clint Eastwood redeems himself with a vengeance complete with uncompromising passion and vision for a true story worth telling. "American Sniper" chronicles the four tours of duty in Iraq that prodigal sniper wunderkind Chris Kyle endured and the emotional impact it had on him and his family back home in Texas. For Eastwood, this is his third war film having previously directed the two-shot companion pieces "Flags of Our Fathers" & "Letters from Iwo Jima" in 2006 to critical acclaim. While "American Sniper" doesn't quite boast the heft of those two films, it comes deadly close.
You would think that Eastwood would have lost his touch politically especially after his "talking to an empty chair" antics at the 2012 Republican National Convention (RNC). Surprisingly, this film represents Eastwood taking a rather liberal stance on war. In fact, a great deal of the film sees the director making pacifist and anti-war statements that go completely against the GOP-base that he originally stood for those years ago. The film is all the better for it in what could have been just a soapbox for Eastwood and scribe Jason Hall to just vent.
Placing Bradley Cooper in the role of Kyle was simply miracle casting. By now, he is used to portraying mentally unhinged and vulnerable characters in films like "Limitless", "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle." Eastwood's camera is almost always trained in closeup to Cooper's eyes as he squints while on a rooftop taking aim at Iraqi militants or taking time out to check in on his wife played exceedingly well by Sienna Miller. It is in these mostly silent, emotional beats, that the film exudes its raw power and actions more than make up for the lack of dialogue. The director seems to always be confident in his actors. All the way back to 1988's Charlie Parker biopic "Bird" and more recently with 2003's gritty, Dennis Lehane scripted Boston-set drama "Mystic River" and 2004's helluva knockout boxing film "Million Dollar Baby."
The film also manages to not be overly-sentimental and makes you really empathize with Kyle and his duty-bound work as a sharp-shooter. The real-life Kyle was such an uncannily good shot that many Iraqi's nicknamed him "The Devil of Ramidi" referring to the area with which he was deployed. By the time his tours were over, he had accrued over 400 kills, half of which were confirmed by the U.S Army and the others by his fellow soldiers. In the film, Kyle wrestles with this fact and doesn't quite believe himself the hero that everyone thinks he is. Clearly, he is torn between duty and moral judgement as he sees the Iraqis are human beings but in order to save his own troops must unleash his talents for merciless missions.
This film is essential viewing for anyone thinking of entering the Army as well as war movie aficionados and readers of Chris Kyle's memoir. Unfortunately, Kyle was shot point-blank by a PTSD-afflicted veteran that he was trying to help. Nevertheless, a moving story and tribute to a questionable legacy.