I knew from the first trailer that this was going to be a heavy movie, but I never could have predicted just how draining it would truly be. American Sniper is a war drama based on the life of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. Of course, the first question that pops into mind is “how does it stack up against other war movies?”
Answer: Very well.
American Sniper is a gut-wrenching story that focuses more on the humanity of soldiers rather than war itself, making it stand out from the oversaturated line of military films. It’s more of a character study than a biopic. Knowing the main character was a real person makes it all the more emotional.
Before I keep going, I want lay my cards on the table so you know where I’m coming from. I, like many others, have friends and family who’ve served in the armed forces. I respect each and every one of the men and women who fight for our country, regardless of any political views. If you’re looking for an in-depth analysis on the U.S. armed forces, this is not it. This is strictly a movie review.
What I liked
This might not be something most people notice right off the bat, but it’s important to mention the significance of American Sniper’s background music.
There’s very little of it.
I liked that there wasn’t a lot of music because it made the movie feel more real. We as people are so used to seeing emotional moments in movies highlighted by equally emotional music, and for that reason, there will be a lot of people that don’t like this choice. There will be people who don’t feel anything watching this movie, and that’s okay. We’ve been conditioned to react a certain way to the element of drama played up by a film’s score. But I found that the lack of music in the movie was crucial to how it played out as a story of humanity.
When music is absent from a moment, the responsibility of creating drama through emotion falls on the shoulders of the actors and actresses. The film’s main stars, Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, seriously deliver on that responsibility. Cooper and Miller work well together. Their interactions are believable, making their silences all the more telling. Watching their relationship transform throughout the movie is fascinating, even if we have seen it as a plot element before. It’s pretty easy to see the justification for Cooper’s Oscar nomination. He has the character down completely; from the twang in Kyle’s accent all the way down to his facial ticks and vocabulary. Chris Kyle is not a perfect character, and Bradley Cooper plays that out to the best of his abilities. This guy has serious talent.
Another thing this movie relies upon is an honest portrayal of Chris Kyle’s character. I don’t know a whole lot about Kyle, and I haven’t read his autobiography, but the movie doesn’t try to portray him as some flawless war hero. In the movie, Chris Kyle is complex. He has a deep seeded reason for fighting, he’s flawed, and most of all, he’s human. Was he a hero? Many of the situations seen in American Sniper are more insightful than factual, so the movie asks that question indirectly. It’s ultimately for the viewer to decide, but not until after an amazing third act.
What I didn’t like
Because this movie is so character driven, the story is pretty weak. Aside from some disturbing combat scenes, American Sniper’s plot is a familiar one. It drags in the middle, and the overarching story is pretty unbelievable when you think about it. When telling a true story, the audience shouldn’t be able to pick out the made-up elements so easily.
The first act was especially clunky, forcing Chris Kyle’s life before the Navy into a small chunk of the movie. There’s a scene in the beginning that plays an important part in setting Chris Kyle’s back-story, but the whole scene is written lazily and poorly directed. It’s a shame, because it could’ve been a really impactful scene. In such a good movie, it stands out like a sore thumb. Also there’s a blatantly fake baby featured in one scene that takes some serious impact out of the moment.
There were also several scenes (including one in slo-mo) that sent mixed messages, standing contradictory to point of the movie. While subtlety is important in making a film like this, some of Cooper’s subtleties were a bit…too subtle. They weren’t necessarily out of place, but there will be people who don’t get the full picture because of them.
American Sniper isn’t fun. If you’re looking for a fun movie, do not go to see this. But this movie is impactful and important. Its honest insight into the life of a sniper makes it one of the more unique movies regarding the war in Iraq. If you live in America, I encourage you to see this movie regardless of your political beliefs. It’s one of director Clint Eastwood’s best films to date, and at this point, it looks like it has a possibility of winning Bradley Cooper an Oscar. Bring tissues, though. It’s tough to watch.
What did you think of American Sniper?