With the heated political debate going on over Clint Eastwood’s latest film, American Sniper, ever since it picked up six Academy Award nominations last Thursday it seems like the actual film has gotten lost a little bit amongst the discussion. If you forget about politics for a second (which is hard to do considering all of the commotion going around about this film), American Sniper turns out to be a compelling war drama that may not represent some of the best work in the genre but at least strives to be among the best. The War on Terror has given us very few great narrative films, but with a great handling of its intensity and a career best performance from its lead, American Sniper is one of those few films.
American Sniper is adapted from Chris Kyle’s autobiography about his life as the deadliest sniper in American history. The film specifically follows his missions in Iraq and his attempt to kill a Syrian sniper working for the insurgents before the Syrian sniper can kill him and other Americans. While the events involving the Syrian sniper are largely fictional, the additions to Kyle’s narrative to the film result in a much more cinematically interesting storyline that allows director Clint Eastwood to deliver his best film in nearly a decade. Eastwood’s directing of the action sequences is really good. They are very reminiscent of Kathryn Bigelow’s work on The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty (which if you can’t be better than the best you might as well take inspiration from the best). Also, Eastwood and his editing team’s handling of the large narrative of Chris Kyle’s life results in a very intense film (if you can get past the clunky opening involving Kyle’s childhood).
This film is nothing, however, without Bradley Cooper’s performance. In recent years, Cooper has been an A-list star that has luckily been able to get some baity roles even if he hasn’t been that compelling in them. This time it’s different. You can clearly tell the dedication that Cooper brought to the role through just how much he disappears into the role. His accent feels natural and his physical presence (not just the added muscle but the way in which he moves around throughout the entire film) is just as realistic. While the supporting cast is short on memorable performances, Sienna Miller does bring some authenticity to a rather one-note role as Kyle’s wife.
The one fault that this film ultimately has is that it just throws away many of the more interesting elements it was focusing on in the final twenty or so minutes in order to give an unnecessary canonization of Chris Kyle. The complex portrayal of PTSD disappears completely, and what we are left with is an ending to a superhero movie rather than the gritty and thematically interesting ending that the rest of the film seemed to be leading to.
That being said American Sniper is an impressive film that shows that Bradley Cooper is here to stay and that Clint Eastwood isn’t quite done yet.