Clint Eastwood is unquestionably a very gifted director, but let’s not fool ourselves. His past few releases have been less than favourable. Lazy, to be exact. So when it became known that he was taking over for Steven Spielberg as the helmer of this film-adaptation of a best-selling book, the expectations weren’t exactly going through the roof. The question is, does he make a resurgence with “American Sniper”? Not quite. But it is by far the best work he’s done since 2008’s “Gran Torino”.
Based on the autobiography of the most lethal sniper in US history, Chris Kyle, “American Sniper” is a portrait of a man’s inner turmoil as he tries to balance duty, family and honour. After four tours in Iraq for Navy SEALS, Kyle returns home to his wife and kids, but he is emotionally scared and unable to leave the horrible memories of the war behind him.
What immediately strikes you about this film is how frantic it is. From the very first shot and all the way to the end, there seems to be an undercurrent anxiety boiling just below the surface. Like a pressure-cooker about to blow. Perhaps it’s the somewhat abrupt cutting of scenes that makes it feel so disjointed, just like Kyle’s own life. Being taught to be a true patriot by his farther, and growing up only to be torn between the life he knows, and the life he thinks he knows. You see, this isn’t about war at all, even though people are gunned left, right and center. No, it’s about perception and reality, and how one can affect the other for better or (in this case) worse.
Unfortunately, all of this tension that is build up inside our “hero” is never released or articulated properly. The emotions are mostly held at arm’s length, and therefore never seem to add up to any conclusion about neither the state of war, or Kyle himself. The pace is too bumpy, bouncing through his life way too fast for us to get attached to his drive and motivations. Why is he so insistent on having kids? How come he joins the army so suddenly, after just one glance at the tv news? We virtually don’t know anything about him as a character, except for the fact that he had a militant dad. If that was played out more consistently throughout the course of the movie, it might have given us something to grab on to. Instead, we lightly tread what should be crucial, deep-cutting moments in this man’s life, in favour of showing lots of admittedly intense action sequences, that frankly don’t do much to help us get inside the mind of the man behind the gun.
That is not to say that there aren’t some noteworthy things about this motion picture. It is competently made, the direction is steady-handed, and the performances are great all across the board. Sienna Miller is exceptional as Kyle’s loving wife, who sees the damage that the war does to her husband. She wants nothing more that for her family to work, and although she might be a little over-dramatically strung up at times, she provides a nice balance to Bradley Cooper’s tough-edged reservation. As for the leading man himself, he is the best part of the whole thing. A lesser talent wouldn’t have been able to communicate subtle emotions the way he does so brilliantly, and despite his character’s lack of backstory, we still connect with him just because of the way Cooper carries him.