29th May2015

‘American Sniper’ Blu-ray Review

by Jack Kirby

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Ben Reed, Elise Robertson, Troy Vincent, Marnette Patterson, Billy Miller, Leonard Roberts, Reynaldo Gallegos, Kevin Lacz, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Eric Ladin | Written by Jason Hall | Directed by Clint Eastwood

am-snip-blu

I have a lot of time for the school of thought that suggests that you get out of a film only what you bring to it in the first place. I think this is particularly relevant for films that portray real life events and perhaps even more so for films that pertain to real life events that are relatively recent. American Sniper is Clint Eastwood’s depiction of the life of Chris Kyle, who became the deadliest sniper in US history during the Iraq war. After seeing the film, I did a little reading around the subject and discovered Kyle to be a rather more controversial subject than you might expect based solely on the film. There’s some debate as to whether Kyle’s actions in Iraq were those of a hero or just a well-utilised psychopath. As with most arguments on the internet, there’s some pretty ugly stuff out there in the public discourse. As such, it can be a little tricky to make this a review of a film rather than of a person, particularly as the actions of the person have contributed to a series of events that are still playing out today.

Kyle is played by Bradley Cooper and it should made clear first and foremost that he is fantastic in this role. At times he’s disturbingly good and it becomes impossible to associate the person on screen with a famous Hollywood actor. Cooper certainly has an eye for projects that play to his considerable strengths – it’s surely only a matter of time before he’s genuinely spoken about as a serious dramatic talent. The only other substantial role in the film is Kyle’s partner Taya, who is played by an also very impressive Sienna Miller.

We see Kyle as a young boy and a rodeo ranch-hand before enlisting with the US Navy Seals after seeing a terrorist attack in the news. A fairly by-the-numbers new recruit training sequence later, and Kyle’s considerable skills as a marksman have been recognised and he is put to use as a sniper and very shortly deployed to Iraq to protect his fellow soldiers from insurgents. Over four tours, Kyle racks up a huge kill count, manages to alienate and reconcile with Taya, battles PTSD and eventually returns to help rehabilitate his fellow veterans.

American Sniper‘s strongest moments are perhaps obviously the fire fights, some of which are remarkably tense. Kyle’s very first action is quite literally to decide whether or not to shoot a woman and child. Later on, the highlight of the film comes during a sequence where Kyle watches a young boy through the scope of his rifle who is toying with the idea of picking up a rocket launcher and firing at the US troops. Kyle is completely ready to shoot the boy but also praying through gritted teeth that he doesn’t have to. Cooper plays the tragic dichotomy of the scene wonderfully. The visceral excitement of these battles is rather undercut by the fact that Kyle carries a phone around that he can use to call Taya in the middle of them, occasionally at emotion-heightening moments such as immediately after a check on their unborn child in hospital. Far be for me to question the authenticity of these moments, but it does strike me as being a bit unlikely.

For all the strengths of its cast, the excellent battle sequences and general high-standards of film-making, I did not find myself emotionally engaged by American Sniper until almost its conclusion. I largely attribute this to Kyle’s persona. He’s so flag-wavingly gung-ho and utterly unquestioning of the US’s role in Iraq – even whilst his colleagues become increasingly bitter and cynical – that I imagine it would be difficult for anyone with perhaps even the smallest qualm about the Iraq war to truly root for him. It is only when a personal vendetta is finally played out that Kyle recognises the war to be, really, a bit of a shitter.

The final act of the film shows us Kyle’s work in rehabilitation back on US soil. This was an interesting development in Kyle’s character and I would have liked to have seen more about this part of his life, dealing as it does with Kyle’s own battle with demons he’d managed to keep very quiet whilst in service. Unfortunately, there’s only about fifteen minutes or so of this stuff before the film ends. The credits sequence utilises real-life footage and leaves no doubts as to what conclusions we’re supposed to have drawn about Kyle during the film. For an otherwise fairly even-handed depiction of a life, this feels like emotional manipulation and the film would have been more hard-hitting without it. For a director of Eastwood’s intelligence, I would have expected a little better. The film has more than its share of strengths, but in the final instance, should have placed a little more faith in its audience to grasp its nuances and draw their own conclusions…

American Sniper is released on DVD and Blu-rau on June 1st.

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