Movie Review: AMERICAN SNIPER – middling biopic that loses its way on bigger issues

American Sniper

Ok, so just back from American Sniper, the Clint Eastwood-directed version of the story of Chris Kyle, the “most lethal sniper in US history”, a movie that’s polarized the American people, but not so much the audience. I figure if you already think it’s “propaganda” (as somebody described it to me the other week), you’re not likely to see it, or if you are on the Right you’ll flock to it. As someone who isn’t a fan of the Left OR the Right, to me, it’s just a movie.

While I’m neither Right nor Left, I’m also neither “pro Military”, but it would be asinine to ignore the need for a military. I mostly object to the kind of people who serve in the military – I’d describe them as rednecks, good old boys, under-educated, etc – but at the same time I know I’m a snob and an arrogant prick at times and that I could never put myself at risk the way these guys do. We need a strong military, even if they’re not the guys I’d want to hang out with, and vice versa.

With that said, I was not anti “American Sniper” going in. I never knew Chris Kyle, never hung out with him, so I have no idea if this account of him is for real – who he was, what he did – other than his stats as a sniper. To me, this is a movie, just like any other. I measure them not against my personal beliefs and prejudices, just if it engages and entertains me. Using that yardstick, overall it did, but admittedly not by much.

I didn’t care much for the Kyle character off the bat. He comes off in his early days as a good ol Texas douche, before we get to see that he’s a meathead with a sensitive side, but by then I didn’t care about him. Cooper gives a charismatic performance, but it’s nothing to write home about. The rest of this overlong movie is a serviceable Middle East-conflict war movie we’ve seen many times by now, interspersed by completely forgettable scenes of his life in between tours. The movie is pretty by-the-numbers. I’ve seen the movie criticized for not saying anything about the war, and it doesn’t – but why should it, if it’s an adaptation of a military guy’s biography? For me, where it falls flat is in when it does try to talk about something important – PTSD, and wounded vets – but the story gives both of them surface treatment when we could maybe see a little bit of the mental torture Kyle went through, if he did. He might just have been a douche that had a crazy good aim, who knows?

I’ve complained about Eastwood’s pedestrian directorial style, and it’s so obvious in the stateside scenes, but you’d have to be a moron to screw up war action scenes, and Eastwood does a decent job in these – but again, if you’ve seen this kind of movie before, it’s not going to show you anything new.


© Andrew Hope 2015

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