Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper charts the military career or Chris Kyle, ‘the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history’. It’s a well composed war drama with a muscular central performance from Bradley Cooper. It doesn’t break new ground in portraying the horrors of modern warfare but it is compelling and Eastwood directs with a fervour that has been missing from much of his recent work.
Chris Kyle’s memoir American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History became an international bestseller and the film was already in development by star-producer Bradley Cooper when Kyle was killed on a shooting range by Eddie Ray Routh in 2013. Eastwood’s film balances the focus between Kyle’s four tours of duty in Iraq and his family life with wife Tanya (Sienna Miller).
Kyle was a controversial figure, with many disputing some of the content of his memoir, while others laud him as a true American hero. Your stance on this may depend on how you see American Sniper – is it a pro-war movie that portrays the US foreign policy as a way of protecting the west from the evils of Al-Qaeda or an anti-war movie that shows how warfare can impact those on the frontline? The reality is that it’s a little of both and this ‘all thing to all men’ mentality means that American Sniper lacks a true edge. Maybe this is because the script was developed with a lot of input from Steven Spielberg who was going to direct the film before dropping out to pursue other projects.
We know that Eastwood can deliver pro-Americana (Heartbreak Ridge) but age seems to have softened his outlook(he’s 84 years old) and he’s delivered a film that sees the stars and stripes sway to the left in the blowing winds of change. Time may have affected Eastwood’s political stance but he’s been re-energised by Jason Hall’s screenplay. This is the most visually dynamic film of Eastwood’s career and he shoots the on-screen action with the fervour of a man half his age. Eastwood has long had a point and shoot mentality when it comes to filmmaking but he’s delivered a piece that has great kinetic momentum and tension.
Bradley Cooper was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance in American Sniper and he does well at getting across Chris Kyle’s need to keep returning to the battlefield. He sells the role and he’s not afraid to delve deep into the man’s darker recesses. Cooper also invested a lot into the role on a physical level, and his beefed-up body helps get across Kyle’s bear-like frame. It’s a strong turn, but it was never going to win the Oscar gold in a year that saw Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne go toe-to-toe.
American Sniper is a well executed war movie that gives you exactly what you want, without ever feeling particularly fresh. It’s Clint Eastwood’s most energetic work as a director and Bradley Cooper’s turn as Chris Kyle feels authentic. You may be split on the film’s message but you can’t deny that it’s a well assembled piece of Hollywood filmmaking.
American Sniper comes with an informative and 30 minute documentary that features input from Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller and others.
American Sniper is arrives on Digital HD on 18 May and DVD and Blu-ray on 1 June 2015.