director: Clint Eastwood
writer: Jason Hall
starring: Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller
genre: Drama | War
released: December 25, 2015 (U.S.), January 22, 2015 (Australia), February 19, 2015 (Greece), February 26, 2015 (Germany)
Last year I was initially perplexed by the reaction "American Sniper" had received, as it wasn't really telling a new story (returning vet, PTSD) and anybody would have thought that war fatigue would have been a detriment to its success. Instead, this didn't turn out to be even remotely true and it actually became Clint Eastwood's most profitable film to date.
Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was brought up to be a sheep dog by his father and turned out to be one of the most trustworthy servants the U.S. military has ever come to see. A man who thought that being a Navy Seal was the best way to assist his country in its duties against the terrorists of the world. While also being a upstanding father and a husband that had to live a turbulous life that unfortunately cost him dearly.
I would have thought after "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty" that we would have been done with the Middle Eastern war thriller genre. Though to the film's credit, it does have a slightly different kind of story to tell. That of the returning veteran and from another angle than the story told in the "The Hurt Locker" or even in the Vietnam film "Born on the Fourth of July". Chris Kyle's story is as much about his war time triumphs, as much as it is about his spousal relationship hitting a patchy road and his changing behavior as a war veteran. Showing mildly the difficulties of what constitutes going back home and dealing with reality. From people giving you their interpretation of your own personal experiences and being confronted by your family that doesn't know if your same person anymore.
These elements are explored to certain points but more with outbursts and short cut scenes in between Kyle's war time duties than with fully fledged explored moments of him being outside of his element. Also absent from the film quite surprisingly is the rest of Kyle's family that is forgotten of after the first third of the film. It's as if they didn't make it through editing process and were considered superfluous compared to his wife and kids. Which is quite disappointing as they are thrown in with a couple references here and there but not with actual time spent. This kind of material would have been ripe for drama and would have meant a greater understanding of who Chris Kyle was before and after his war time duty. Such as his father and mother's opinion on his struggles and war glory, while also his brothers deployment to Iraq.
With the in and out and selective storytelling of Chris Kyle's life makes the film feel half the time as it's trying to be "Black Hawk Down" and the other half of the time "Born on the Fourth of July". And while its action is fine and its drama also well captured. It can't be both kind of films within time length of a two hour film. It also isn't helped by the war scenes being desensitized by the fake muzzle flashes, bullet effects and blood spatters that the film is covered in. Naturally, this was done for time constraints and practicality reasons. However, this leaves the film without a real oomph feeling of the raw carnage and terror of the battlefield and also of the sectarian violence that was happening in Iraq and in front of Chris Kyle's very eyes. An old time filmmaker such Clint Eastwood should have realized that and put forth a plan for squibs to have been used and a makeup effects guru to take charge. It can't be that we have to accept a low grade representation of the battlefield, especially in a true to life story.
Moreover, having the film have a unnecessary rival sniper villain just minimizes the film from being a true story to a simplistic action film. Nonetheless, I fully understand who this film was made for. Which is middle america who want to know somewhat the story of one of America's greatest war heroes and feel good about it at the same time. Having the material be easy to consume, but not automatically making it thoughtful in the process.
Though, what bothered me most of all is the advertising of the film and the ruining of one of maybe the most suspenseful moments in the film and of Chris Kyle's life. Which is his first sniper shot on duty and of a child and woman in the film. This scene is significantly impactful as he has to for the first time prove himself and against a kid and a woman insurgent. Within split seconds Kyle has to make a judgement call if they are a possible threat or just bystanders. This though doesn't pan out to be very suspenseful in that moment in the film, as its ruined by being made the most important moment of the trailer. Additionally, the film for the oddest of reasons instead of beginning the film with his childhood and upbringing. Starts it off with that first shot sniper scene, but then cuts away from it to his childhood. Immediately deescalating the moment and devoiding it of any existing tension. This is at least for myself movie making 101. If you want the scene to remain important and full of tension and to encapsulate raw intensity. You don't prematurely sell it and then cut away from it thereafter!
In the end this film was once more made for the audience of middle America and more precisely one side of the political aisle and whoever doesn't see this connection doesn't know enough about American politics. With Chris Kyle having become a symbol of late and a very important figure in the media with his opinions, famed fights and role in the war. Making those who were wrong about the war feel for one reason or another good about it once again.
Putting aside politics, the film is moving enough to show Kyle's charming character and how much he had changed with his deployment to Iraq. With Eastwood's direction justice is done in regards to his story and the lack of respect many veterans have received after their return from combat. However, their are too many instances within the film that the choice between cinematic spectacle versus realism is taken and it results in a film that is more keen to glorify war triumphs and audience ideals of god, country and state, instead of what PTSD may do to a man and his family.