American Sniper (2014)
Starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Plain and simple, I just don't think Clint Eastwood as a director creates an atmosphere in which actors can create characters that take us on an emotional journey. (Granted, I'm several years removed from his heralded Mystic River so that may be an exception to the rule, but I can't recall.) The same can be said for American Sniper -- the true story of Texan Chris Kyle who joined the Navy SEALs right around 9/11 and became the most accurate sniper in US military history. Eastwood captures the horrors of war quite well, but when he steps away from the warfront, the esteemed auteur (by others, not me) fails at crafting any modicum of emotional impact.
Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle with a hearty (sometimes undecipherable) southern drawl, but don't allow the hickish initial appearance of Kyle make you doubt his intelligence or passion for both his family and his country. Cooper does a nice job of tackling the authoritative nature of Kyle on the battlefield and, as the film progresses, we do grasp the sense that Cooper's Kyle is slowly mentally deteriorating from the horrors of war that he witnessed. Unfortunately for Cooper, Eastwood is anything but subtle and Kyle's post-traumatic stress is sometimes a bit too blatant.
This PTSD aspect of the story isn't aided by the fact that Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall paint Kyle's home life as a by-the-books, paint-by-numbers, stereotype. Poor Sienna Miller. After an admittedly amusing meet-cute with Kyle at a bar, her Taya is relegated to crying into a phone begging for her husband to give up his missions and come home. I don't doubt for a second this happened, nor do I doubt that conversations like this happen every single day with our servicemen and their spouses. However, Eastwood and Hall just keep hitting the same emotional beats over and over again and the repetition (however truthful) is wearing on the audience's patience.
Yes, I understand that it's perhaps unfair to critique a true story for its lack of originality, but it's the job of the director and screenwriter to make us (a) care for these people, and (b) create a sustainable story that's worth watching. Eastwood and Hall do a more than adequate job accomplishing this task when Chris Kyle is on the ground in the Middle East, but when the action brings him to his home soil, things fall apart. When real life shots of Chris Kyle's funeral during the film's credits are the only thing that create an emotional impact, I can't help but think the director is at fault.
Negative critiques aside, this is Eastwood's best work in a while thanks to the incredibly intense war sequences. With the exception an unfortunate slow motion shot during the film's final skirmish that forced me to stifle a laugh, whenever Bradley Cooper and his fellow actors are placed into combat situations, we can't help but feel viscerally involved with the images. For this, Eastwood deserves a large amount of credit and proves that he has some chops as a director. Unfortunately, the staid and tired way he directs the film's other sequences brings this down more notches than Chris Kyle's story deserves to be dropped.
The RyMickey Rating: C+