A lot of controversy has surrounded Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial film ‘American Sniper’, not because of artistic merit but mostly due to the fact that people question whether Chris Kyle was actually a hero or should be shown as such. The man who is the ‘American Sniper’ killed over 160 people in the Iraq war, so it’s not hard to see why people are not too pleased to see us glorifying a person in a war that many people think we shouldn’t have been in. But alas, I am predominantly going to be talking about the actual film – deciding whether it works on an artistic level and what the FILM’s morals are rather than the real Chris Kyle.
Right from the beginning of the film, the morals of our protagonist are laid out to us on a plate; when Chris is a young boy his Father hammers into him that there are three types of people – The sheep (the victims), the wolves (the bullies) and the sheep dogs (the people who will do whatever it takes to protect the victims). It’s an easy bit of expedition and an insight into the world of Chris Kyle in a film so unbelievably focused on his character and nothing else. This film is meant to serve almost as a character profile for the deadliest sniper in American history and the way in which the war affected him. Yet it often fails at doing this, even when it’s meant to be so blatantly obvious.
Chris Kyle’s back story is handed to us at the very beginning of the film; he’s always wanted to be a cowboy, has a brother who looks up to him, decides to become a SEAL because of a terrorist attack, then he meets a girl and marries her. This is all done reasonably well even though it feels like it happens as quick as you can read that list. It does a good job of showing us the sort of person that Kyle; a hardened man who knows his morals and is determined to fight what he believes in. What sort of person his Wife is not exactly known when he actually leaves for war.
When we actually get to war the action kicks off near enough straight away, with Kyle having to kill both a woman and a child who were about to throw a grenade at the platoon. It’s a powerful scene that’s told pretty much just from Kyle’s POV. It focuses on Kyle’s facial expressions which Bradley Cooper plays brilliantly. When the shot is taken while his team-mates are around him cheering the shot, Kyle remains still clearly trying to let sink in what has just happened. Cooper’s portrayal of Kyle can’t be praised enough as he’s the only actor in the movie whoever really gets a chance to properly shine and he rises to the occasion.
None of the battle scenes are particularly that intense in this film, as the camera always stays moderately still and firm with what it’s capturing in order to try to show what’s going on with Kyle. This turns out to be more detrimental that you would think as one of the reasons why ‘The Hurt Locker’ is seen as such a brilliant war film is that the camera work allows us to fully emerge into the film and feel like we’re part of it rather than observing someone in it. This is most evident when comparing sniper scenes from the two films. In ‘American Sniper’ they exaggerate a sniper from real life and turn him into the antagonist of the film called ‘Mustafa’ (he wears a headband, jumps around from building to building like he’s in Assassin’s Creed, has a henchman called ‘The Butcher’ who wields a drill as a weapon and is only ever seen sat in a house spinning bullets on a table when he’s not at battle.) and he plays the oppositions sniper in every single battle in the film. It plays out like a typical ‘good guy bad guy’ situation with everything happening very fast and without actually having much consequence, but it is interesting to see them actually have an antagonist in a war film for once. Whereas the sniper battle in ‘The Hurt Locker’ is nitty, gritty, long-winded and painful to watch these character go through it, you get the impression that one mistake will cost them their lives.
This turns out to be the biggest flaw with the film – the lack of consequence. It’s very rare that we feel that the american soldiers are actually in danger, they seem to be indestructible even in the last battle scene where Iraqi soldiers are flocking around them like flies to a carcase they pretty much all escape while the Iraqi soldiers are shown like the A.I from a video game. When Chris Kyle is home between tours we always have about one or two scenes to show us about things are changing and they don’t work that well due to the fact that the audience hasn’t been given any sort of a chance to care about his family. Even the things we should be shown and care about get swept under the rug; Kyle gets told he’s got high blood pressure due to the war but it gets pushed aside because of the fact that his wife goes into labour straight after. The mental torture that a sniper would have to go through is merely touched on in this film; targets are shown clear as day for Kyle to clearly take out barely actually showing both how talented a shot he was and how much mental strain he’d have to go through to decide to take these targets (minus the kids where it works very well).
Even with these long list of faults ‘American Sniper’ is by no means a bad film. It’s an entertaining document of a war veteran, it’s just a shame that it could have been done better. Clint Eastwood who’s now 84, shows that he is still an extremely capable director and hasn’t quite lost his touch just yet. Bradley Cooper is stunning in his role and does the best job that he can – he’s the one star of the whole show. The others around him aren’t quite given the same opportunities to shine.