Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial offering American Sniper, based on the memoir of the deadliest military sniper in US history, Chris Kyle, is something of a mixed bag, despite being nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. The war scenes in Iraq are gripping, but the Stateside stuff is frankly rather dull. It also features the worst “fake baby” scene in recent memory.
Bradley Cooper does his best to get under the skin of his subject, but in doing so loses much of the edginess and charm that he brings to his other performances. As his wife, Sienna Miller’s role seems boring and clichéd, through no fault of her own. The afore-mentioned “fake baby” scene really does ruin what is supposed to be an emotional moment, because one cannot take one’s eyes off what is obviously a prosthetic.
Mercifully, these Stateside scenes are kept to a minimum. American Sniper really comes to life in a number of tense set pieces in the combat zone. In these sequences the film recalls The Hurt Locker, and there is something in Kyle’s obsessive nature that invites comparison with the Jeremy Renner character in that film. Three scenes in the Iraq sections really stand out – one involving a sandstorm, another a child picking up a rocket launcher, and one involving a drill wielding terrorist. The latter is particularly upsetting and shocking, and now perhaps is the appropriate time to add warnings for strong language and violence.
Clearly American Sniper aspires to be non-political and personal, like The Hurt Locker. However, it is a film that ultimately errs on the side of patriotism, in spite of attempts at showing the appalling damage caused by prolonged exposure to armed conflict. Regardless of what one might think about patriotism, The Hurt Locker remains the superior film for many reasons. One of which is the finale, which skims over an important time in Kyle’s life and leaves a key event offscreen – a mistake in my view.
Ultimately I can’t help but feel a little frustrated with American Sniper. It is a good film, in spite of its uneven tone, but with a true story this fascinating, it ought to have been a great one.