Tuesday, February 3, 2015

American Sniper

In the teaser trailer for American Sniper, Chris Kyle is shown peering through his scope at a street somewhere in Iraq, looking for potential threats. When a woman and a young boy emerge from the bottom floor carrying what appears to be a pipe bomb, however, Kyle is faced with a terribly difficult decision. That scene alone was enough to get me into the theaters to see this movie, and apparently everybody else in the country as well. It was one of the highest opening weekends at the box office of the last year with $89.5 million, and blew away the previous record for the month of January ($41.5 million). However, there has been a lot of controversy over this film in recent weeks, particularly over the subject of this biopic, Chris Kyle. I'm not really going to touch on that in my review - partially because I think most of the complaints are bogus - but also because I'm a movie reviewer, not a political debater. All of my thoughts regarding American Sniper are relating to the film itself, and are unrelated to my personal feelings on the late U.S. war hero.

This review is going to deviate slightly from the structure of my former posts, as I think will be the case for a lot of my Oscar series where I review all the films that were nominated for Best Picture (and Best Director, if I ever get around to seeing Foxcatcher). Films like American Sniper are difficult to summarize, in that they aren't necessarily plot-motivated, but rather tend to focus on a particular character. Besides, most people probably already know the major points of what this movie will cover, though it's the details that make it truly worthwhile. It's really an excellent window into what most service men and women must feel, both on the battle field and when trying to adjust to normal life once their tour is complete. Director Clint Eastwood really balances the themes of the films with a subtle touch, even when the scenarios played out on screen are horrifying to witness.

Even with the most skilled auteur in the director's chair, the film would utterly fail if we didn't connect with the title character. That's why a ton of credit given to Bradley Cooper for this film's success, as not only did he do an uncanny job of portraying Chris Kyle, but as a producer he was also instrumental in bringing this film to life behind the scenes. For all of you Bradley Cooper fans out there, yes, he did put on about 50 lbs or muscle for this role. What you may be disappointed by, however, is that he isn't really Bradley Cooper in this movie. He's become Chris Kyle, from the flawless Texan accent to the bushy beard and somewhat awkward interpersonal encounters.

Eastwood is also at the top of his directorial game, bringing so much emotion to moments that would be plenty intense on their own that it elevates it to another level entirely. Not only are you worried that someone will attack Kyle's platoon at any moment, but you're also horrified at the thought of him potentially having to pull the trigger on a boy who picks up a grenade launcher from the attacker he'd just shot. Add to that the struggle of leaving behind the villainous people responsible for the deaths of many of his friends, and it actually gives me a glimpse into the struggle that many veterans must face when returning home.

There is one disclaimer that I'd like to throw out there. Unlike some of the films I review where the rating is undeserved or ambiguous, there is a definite reason that American Sniper is rated R. To those who are uncomfortable with foul language, this movie is not for you. The script is written to show what is probably very authentic dialogue between soldiers in the heat of battle, and the harsh language certainly is evidence of that. I was able to get past the language for the most part, as my older brother has confirmed that life in the military (at least in regards to language) is very similar to what is portrayed on screen. Those who aren't offended by F-bombs probably won't blink an eye, but all others should either approach with caution or skip this one entirely.

What sticks with you most after seeing this film is the realistic portrayal of the horrors of war juxtaposed with the simple, relatively care-free life that most of us enjoy here in the U.S. I know I definitely found my gratitude for this country renewed after seeing an Al Qaeda war lord using an electric drill to torture and kill those who talked to the American soldiers. There are things going on overseas that most of us can't even imagine, and it really brings the price of the freedoms we enjoy (and take for granted) into greater perspective. Not only that, but the film does a great job showing the trials that military men and women go through to serve their country, often to the detriment of their own physical and mental health. Some of the moral quandaries in which Chris Kyle finds himself are almost impossible to fathom, and regardless of your personal view of his actions, it takes a unique person to be able to make those decisions and live with them afterwords.

When it comes down to it, this isn't a perfect film. There are some pacing problems here and there, and even on a technical level it seems that a few scenes actually went without sound editing. But regardless of its flaws, this is a haunting look at one of the most well-known soldiers in U.S. history, and the tragic ending makes it even more so. The performances across the board are terrific, the action scenes are gripping, and the emotion is subtle yet omnipresent throughout the film. It definitely would have made my top ten films of the year had I seen it before 2014 expired, and I'm going to give it a solid three and a half stars.

AMERICAN SNIPER is rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references

** What did you think of American Sniper (or that AWESOME trailer)? Let me know in the comments, and don't forget to like my Facebook page! **