Review: “American Sniper”

“American Sniper” is probably one of the most Americana movies made in recent memory. Sadly, that is not a good thing. Cold, one-dimensional and completely misses the opportunity to showcase something more complex in favor of blunt storytelling. It’s not that I don’t love my country; I would just prefer we don’t make movies that praise subjects and their actions as acts of patriotism when it’s really sociopathic behavior.

Now I’m not gonna go into some political rant about Iraq and the military and blah, blah. Not only would that be pointless, but it would also make this piece overlong and dry—much like the movie itself. No, I will critique this movie as a movie and then take it from there. So let’s get started.

As a film, “American Sniper” is continuing evidence that Clint Eastwood has lost any spark or versatility he once had and is now settling for meandering material and executing with simplistic style. The movie plays like a dull drive through a down-home American town: There is persistent feeling of sadness, every person thinks the same, and you swear you’ve past that same drug store a thousand times but soon you realize it’s just that everything in this town looks exactly alike. People in the Midwest and Texas will feel right at home.

Even with the most advanced scope on the market it would impossible to find any resemblance of charm or grace in any scene. Eastwood rushes through scenes as if—given his old age—he wanted to finish them so he could yet again run to the bathroom. No time is taken to make anything intense or create any atmosphere, and even when the killing is done, there is little padding so we can see if each kill took a little something away from the title character, Navy sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper); its bang, bang and on to the next scene of soldierly banter, home where he and his wife have one-dimensional conversations, and then back to killing. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Not that this movie seems to understand the psychology of its lead, though, as the range of emotions they allow him to between either angry or happy. For instance we know how “passionate” about his job he is because on two whole occasions he is exposed to violence on TV and just looked so darn-tootin’ mad. So obviously he was born to be an American hero because he was appropriately flustered by the media. And, of course, he is from Texas where clearly only true Americans are born.

Cooper is fine in the role of Kyle, but I know he can be phenomenal with the right material and this is not it. Being from Wyoming I have had the pleasure (wait, that’s not the right word. Give me a minute I’ll try to figure it out) of being exposed to about a bazillion Chris Kyle’s. There are simple ranch folk who like beer, girls and horse poo. Nothing is wrong in that lifestyle and embracing a simple, pro-American anti-everyone else persona, but that doesn’t make them interesting people. And much like them I could only listen to Cooper talk in his Texan drawl before I could feel the brain cells evacuating at mass while I became more and more curious about the music of Toby Keith. These movies should come with release forms.

Most of this, especially the blandness that is Kyle, would’ve been acceptable had it not been for the utter disregard for the real questions this movie skims over like a redneck at a bookstore looking for Tom Clancy: What does this lifestyle do to a man’s psyche and is it all justified for the defense of freedom. By minute 30 the movie’s answer is “Who cares?” and “America!”

Kyle is treated like an American hero for killing 250 men overseas (160 confirmed), even though in his book he is quoted with saying it was “fun” and that he wished he “could’ve killed more”. That is trademark of a sociopath, which would’ve made for a great psychological drama, working as a companion piece to “The Hurt Locker”. But no, Eastwood and adapter Jason Hall have no time for such questions, not while there’s an American soldier that needs praising. Not to mock soldiers, whom I have immense respect for; I just want them to get the fair treatment they deserve by people seeing an unabashed account of what being in a warzone can do to you. There are many great movies that illustrate that point, and “American Sniper” is not one of them.

One scene that particularly made my blood boil and gave me the impression of where this movie stood is when Kyle and his team are dining in the home of an Iraqi family. They are having a nice time until Kyle expects something evil in the head of this household. He goes to inspect the house and finds storage of guns. Raise the alarm! This man must be stopped by this hero! In short, you can’t trust brown people. Awful I know, and I’m sure you could find more guns in the homes of “good Americans”.

Now it’s not all bad. Eastwood still knows how to set up some tense scenes and Cooper does a good job with what he’s given. It’s just I just have no time for a movie like this. It’s slow, monotonous, unsympathetic, and caters to a very specific audience who want something very specific values portrayed in their movies: Americans are great; terrorists are bad; rock, flag and eagle. Think “The Blind Side” with guns. But on a positive note the movie did make me think. Granted about only negative feelings the movie gave me, but still, that’s worth at least something

Grade: C-


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