Sunday, 14 June 2015

American Sniper

Upon the release of American Sniper, there was no escaping the controversy. However, the controversy was very rarely about the film. Sure, sometimes it was about the portrayal of the war or the real-life characters, but most of the time people were arguing about politics. They were arguing about the war itself, or Chris Kyle (the subject of the title) himself. This rubbed off on the film and created a ridiculously political release that caused heated arguments from internet message boards to inside the cinemas screening the film, especially in America. As this is a film review, I will be reviewing the film. Call me old fashioned, but that’s kind of my job. Most of American Sniper’s critics seemed to fail to realise that, with most reviews going along the lines of “Sure, the film is okay BUT CHRIS KYLE IS A MONSTER” or “Yeah, good performance, BUT WAR IS TERRIBLE AND I HATE THE GOVERNMENT” etc. If you’re here for my opinion on war or Chris Kyle, you’re in the wrong place. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the film, shall we?

Directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood and out now on Blu-Ray & DVD, American Sniper is a biographical piece about Chris Kyle; the ‘most lethal sniper in US military history’. Covering Kyle’s life from childhood to his untimely post-military death, the film spends most of its 135 minute running time portraying his four tours of Iraq.  The most controversial thing that I will be saying in this review is that I thought the chunks of American Sniper on the frontlines were a bit weak. Now, these bits aren’t necessarily badly made, they’re just rather bland and generic – have you seen any Iraq war movie ever? Then you’ve seen the majority of American Sniper. I know, it’s hard to put your own touch on history – it’s bound to look similar in most films – but I’ve come to expect something a little more from Eastwood. For me, this was where the film let itself down. If it wasn’t for Bradley Cooper swanning about, you could easily be watching the brilliant The Hurt Locker or the shit Green Zone

With one hilariously fake baby aside (the ‘actor’ playing Kyle’s new-born child fell ill at the last minute, being replaced by a doll), American Sniper is more on target during the home-life side of the narrative. This is thanks to two great performances. Sienna Miller, playing her second real-life wife of the past year after her appearance in Foxcatcher, delivers a solid performance as Taya Kyle. But it’s Bradley Cooper who owns the film with a phenomenal performance as Chris Kyle; a man deeply troubled by his actions and the war itself. American Sniper has been described as both a war film and an anti-war film – for every frontline gunfight we see, we spend even longer seeing the physical and psychological toll that these events take on those involved. This is where the film is its most affecting and it’s most well-made.

The film could’ve easily become opinionated propaganda, like the film-within-a-film from Inglourious Basterds (ironically also about a sniper). But other than archive footage of Kyle’s funeral procession over the end credits which is clearly played for emotional impact, the film doesn’t really try and ram any sort of opinion down your throat. It doesn’t portray him as a villain, but it doesn’t necessarily portray him as a hero either. The majority of people who claim this was the case, probably haven’t seen the film. Much like the lady in Australia who petitioned to get Grand Theft Auto V banned because “it encourages the player to sexually abuse and kill women in exchange for health points” which is quite preposterously incorrect, I get the impression most of the haters have made their judgement on the poster or trailer alone.

Don’t get me wrong, American Sniper is not perfect. Not by a long shot. It’s full of cliché in the war sequences and it’s rather forgettable once the credits have rolled, falling onto the ever-growing list of war films. But it is not the “America! F**k yeah!” patriotism-stuffed piece that the haters would have you believe. The film isn’t a brainwashing piece of propaganda with the sole intention of making you love Chris Kyle. American Sniper is an intimate and harrowing portrait of the effects of war and a compelling character study of an interesting man.

American Sniper makes the shot, but not the kill. 3/5.


Sam Love

American Sniper at CeX

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