There are two separate things to consider when discussing Clint Eastwood’s latest war film, American Sniper. First, what it could have been. The story is centered on Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. This could have been, should have been, about the inner workings of Kyle’s mind; a deeper look at what made him “The Legend,” as his fellow SEALs nicknamed him. American Sniper does none of this. Instead, “Sniper” relegates itself to being a polished, glorified look at Kyle, slipping back and forth between tedium and tense, brutal scenes of combat.
This could have been a truly interesting picture if screenwriter Jason Hill gave any thought to the “whys” behind his subject’s behavior. What drove a married man with two kids to serve four tours in Iraq? Since the film’s release, a few articles have hit the internet criticizing the film for its portrayal of Kyle as a selfless, saint-like figure. Many report that the real-life Chris Kyle actually enjoyed killing, even going as far as calling it “fun” in his memoir. If this was in fact true, the filmmakers had a goldmine of things to work with. They could have hinted at Kyle being an almost Dexterlike figure, a man who used war as his killing platform. Even a little of that inflated ego he was said to have would have helped make him a bit more of a multifaceted character. Here, his character seems like little more than a conservative’s dream figure — a flag-waving hero through and through.
But politics and accuracy aside, the film’s biggest problem is one you wouldn’t expect: some of it is just plain dull. And repetition is the main culprit here. There are three scenes you see played on loop throughout American Sniper: the PTSD scenes, in which we see Kyle’s struggle to readapt to a normal family life; the moments of marital and emotional turmoil between Taya and Kyle; and the war scenes, many of which consist of Kyle perched on a rooftop, ready to take his enemies out. These three individual segments are well done the first time around (especially the ‘will he/wont he shoot the woman and child’ scene from the trailer, which the film opens with). But by the 4th time, we’re ready for something new.
There are some high points to American Sniper. Despite its lack of nuance and its heavy-handed come-on to the right-wing patriots, Eastwood is a competent filmmaker armed with one of the most talented actors working today. Here, Cooper is game. With his Texas twang down pat, Cooper throws himself into the role of this beer-guzzling, gun-toting cowboy who will do anything to protect the country he loves. His dedicated performance is the heart of “Sniper.” But even so, it’s not enough to counteract the fact that the film’s portrayal of Kyle reads like words on a tombstone: War Hero. Loving father and husband. The end.
American Sniper is now playing at Regal South Beach.