Since I recently found myself enormously impressed by Oscar nominees The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, I was prepared to be similarly blown away by Clint Eastwood’s latest offering. Unfortunately, while American Sniper is an undeniably well-made thriller, it’s not the groundbreaking piece of cinema I was expecting it to be.
Based on the life of Chris Kyle, the most infamous and lethal sniper in U.S. military history, Sniper is a raw exploration of one man’s damaged psyche as he undergoes four tours in Iraq (thanks to a misguided sense of patriotism). The script does an effective job of showcasing the emotional scars that begin to take their toll on Kyle, in addition to the distressing effects on his marriage. However, the film starts to get a tad repetitive with the onslaught of endless gunfights (and this is coming from one of the biggest action junkies around). Eventually, the bullets start to lose their meaning, and since the rest of the cast isn’t nearly as well developed as Kyle, the film ends up lacking a true sense of urgency.
As for our titular hero, I wasn’t too impressed by Bradley Cooper at first, but I came to realize how challenging it must have been to illustrate the intricacies of being a traumatized soldier without the use of “showy” scenes. Such sequences are reserved for his wife (played by the stunning Sienna Miller). The Alfie star delivers an exceptional performance, but she also has the benefit of a number of emotional outbursts that help her convey her character arc. Thankfully, the two actors have an easy charm between them, and that really sells their initial romance before the various bumps along the way. It’s also worth mentioning that Bradley Cooper gained a ton of weight to play Kyle, and the transformation serves the character well; he genuinely feels like just another typical American dude blindly trying to make a difference in any which way he can.
Clint Eastwood’s direction is predictably stellar, with one crowning jewel in particular: a breathtaking sandstorm sequence that’s shot to perfection by Director of Photography Tom Stern. The sequence amazed me with its complexity; the viewer never loses sight of what’s happening on-screen, yet you’re left feeling completely disoriented (just like Kyle). It’s just a truly outstanding set-piece, and certainly the film’s highlight.
American Sniper is a solid yet somewhat overrated war-drama that doesn’t really offer anything new.