Dir: Clint Eastwood (2014)
Human killing machine or American hero? Clint Eastwood certainly knows which side of the fence he’s standing on with this short-sighted Iraq war film focusing on the deadliest sniper in American history. Chris Kyle has been extremely vocal in his feelings towards the 160 people he gunned down over a handful of tours; He was a protector, a sheepdog, as the film tells us, amongst a world of wolves and sheep, with one focus: To protect the men of the “greatest nation on earth”. Kyle perhaps showed his sheepishness by dashing off to the wrong country with thousands of other angry soldiers after 9/11 and here, Eastwood and writer Jason Hall, find themselves wolves; vicious and one-sided in their picture of a war fought by only one “good” side.
Bradley Cooper is solid in every way as Kyle; A stoic, levelled performance that blurs humble focus with shell-shock while dancing with 100’s of other ain’t war hell clichés. Leaving his farm life behind to join the Navy Seals and incensed by the one-sided FOX media coverage of the war, Kyle is determined in his mission only through blind patriotism. He picks up his stripes and his rifle, leaves his new bride (Sienna Miller with nothing to do) and we find him off on a roof top about to score his first 2 kills; A woman and a child wielding a grenade. It’s a gut punch introduction, there to shock, but more than that to show us a man, intent on doing what he was programmed to do; Assess and take down.
The shocking death of Kyle in 2013 saw then director Steven Spielberg finally leave the problematic film. His insistence on showing the enemy snipers in equal screen time saw the script bloat to 180 pages and it’s obvious what Eastwood and Hall lost in order to hoist the intense red white and blueness. The enemy here are one-sided cardboard cut outs, popping up only to be blasted away in the crosshairs; They are demons, butchers and liars who serve only to be cannon fodder for Kyle and his team of American heroes.
Things get worse when a shadow of Kyle returns; Distanced from his wife and his children, scared of lawn mowers and loud noises, blunted in personality by the war, Cooper does well as Kyle but American Sniper as a film does not. In one idiotic BBQ scene, Kyle violently protects a child by beating a family dog; Hall and Eastwood pummelling the sheepdog metaphor home with as much grace and precision as a drunk avalanche. It has some well structured set pieces if you want to look at American Sniper as an action film. It has some nice, sets and sound design if you want to look at it technically. Sadly the problem with this film is that you feel forever like you’re looking down the closed-minded sniper scope of ignorance; Forced to look away from the bigger picture.