American Sniper (2014)

18 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Clint Eastwood’s war thriller-drama “American Sniper” grabs you by the shirt and nearly rips it off after holding on for so long. That’s a compliment to how riveting its intense action sequences are. Here, at a time when it seems nearly impossible to shoot action without the use of a tripod, are some well-shot, fully-realized battle scenes that are among the best in any war film I’ve seen. You can see everything fine, it’s exciting, and it captures the essence (and madness) of war really well. What makes it all work better is that, unlike most action films or thrillers you see coming to the big screen here and there, I actually care about who’s involved in the chaos.

The film is loosely based on the life of Iraq War veteran Chris Kyle, who served four tours in Iraq in the 2000s, and it has received a controversy about how much of his story was exaggerated and how much was never mentioned at all (that is described in his autobiography of the same name). Either way, it’s a fascinating film that paints a clear portrait of a man who wishes to serve his country in any way he can and becomes a “legendary” American sniper in country, with 160 confirmed kills, but still try to keep what’s left of his humanity/mental-state intact out of country.

Bradley Cooper stars in arguably his best work to date as Kyle. While watching this film, I forgot I was watching Cooper in a performance and instead saw Chris Kyle. It’s tough to fully describe how shockingly good he is in this role; it has to be seen to be believed.

We follow Kyle on four Iraq tours, as well as times with his family in between. As I said before, the action sequences are outstanding, with one powerful scene after another—my favorites include an important opening kill, a tense, drawn-out rescue attempt against an interrogation that involves a drill, and a shoot-to-kill scenario where the target is about a mile away. But oddly enough, it’s when he’s home that the film is at its weakest. Its theme of trying to cope in the real world, which we’ve seen better in other films, is more standard in the way it’s presented, even though there are some effective tricks Eastwood pulls for us to feel something (the best of which involves a blank TV screen). But even so, I suppose it’s needed. After all, it’s important to care about Kyle and what he has to live for.

Would the film be more compelling if everything they left out from the book was put into the film? Probably, but then again, as I hear, the book is more about patriotism which would have made a more “complete” film more of a propaganda than anything else. But I’m reviewing this film, not the book. As a film, it’s terrific and one I won’t forget anytime soon.

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