Movie Review: American Sniper
American Sniper is an interesting mess of a film with a lot that works and a lot that probably could have benefited from a strict editing to the screenplay. Unlike many war movies which are built around a pivotal moment or day in a war, American Sniper is centered around the life of the title character. That's not unexpected -- the film is adapted from an autobiography -- but the film meanders as a consequence. There's not a clean narrative and seemingly important elements to the story remain bafflingly unresolved (Chris Kyle's brother is a critical character early in the film, but he gets deployed and then the film completely forgets that he exists) and what serves as the film's climax loses punch from being to similar to a series of scenes earlier in the film. There are also a handful of moments that are bizarrely tone deaf, like an awkward racial joke early in the film that is clearly meant to be an audience buster (with the obligatory few seconds of silence until the laughter dies down) but it falls completely flat. This film is not the work of a master that will be studied by film school students for years to come. But what it does right, it does very right. Its war scenes feel immediate and authentic, Bradley Cooper (in the best performance of his career) makes Chris Kyle feel like a real human being (which isn't always a given for films based on true stories), and the life at the center of the film is a fascinating one. Ultimately, the good more than makes up for the film's shortcomings resulting in a film that is sure to please moviegoers that love stories about soldiers as well as many that don't.
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
How does it compare to other recent war movies?
Better than: Zero Dark Thirty
Worse than: Lone Survivor
First of all, I did not know that this was a true story until after I saw American Sniper--whether or not that would have changed my opinion of it, I'm not sure. The movie follows Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who worked as a sniper in Iraq. It flip flops between Kyle's time in Iraq and his time at home, and we see how his relationship with his wife (Sienna Miller with a pretty brunette dye job) changes each time he returns to America. While the movie doesn't have the linear structure of movies like Lone Survivor or Saving Private Ryan, it does get these characters down pat. I agree with Bob that Bradley Cooper is at his best yet--much better than anything he's done up to this point. Sienna Miller also portrays his wife in a meaningful and heartfelt way.
What I liked about this movie was that it doesn't sugarcoat Kyle's homecoming. We see, in a way that few movies are able to portray, how he is struggling when he returns home. There is one scene where he's sitting in front of a blank T.V. screen and we can hear bombs and bullets shooting in his head; moments like this allow the audience to understand his struggle without making it melodramatic. The tension is strong throughout the movie--in Iraq, his job as a sniper makes for nail-biting scenes, and in America, we are never sure about what is going to happen to Kyle, and what (if anything) will set him off. The movie takes the "war movie" genre a step further with great cinematography--for the first time, I could see what an Iraq sandstorm looks like without Hollywood completely clearing it up so we can see stars' faces. A movie that's a definite must-see.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5