Bradley Cooper Carries the Weight in AMERICAN SNIPER – Movie Review
By now, most people are probably aware of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL labeled “the most lethal sniper in history.” Those unfamiliar now have the film adaptation of Kyle’s best-selling autobiography, American Sniper.
Bradley Cooper stars as Kyle, a big, burly Texas cowboy who gives up a life of being a rodeo rider to join the Navy. Shortly after marrying Taya (Sienna Miller), 9/11 occurs and he’s sent to Iraq for what would become the first of four tours. A crack shot, Kyle racks up so many kills his comrades nickname him “The Legend,” and he attracts the attention of an enemy sniper called The Butcher. Kyle happily comes home to a pregnant Taya after his first tour, but PTSD forces him to return to Iraq.
American Sniper isn’t a typical war film. There’s no real three act structure, as most of the film is pretty much The Trials and Tribulations of Chris Kyle, SEAL Sniper. He serves a tour, comes home, suffers from horrible PTSD, returns to Iraq for another tour. Director Clint Eastwood, probably assuming most people are familiar with at least part of Kyle’s story, instead focuses on the smaller moments, the ones that define Kyle. Cooper, who gained 35 pounds to play the role, is more than game for portraying Kyle’s inner torment, and it’s shown with his third straight Academy Award nomination, which was announced Thu., Jan. 15.
Eastwood has directed his best film since 2006, when he made the underrated Flags of Our Fathers and surprised everyone with the companion piece Letters from Iwo Jima. The problem with Eastwood, which as always been his main fault as director, is the speed at which he makes a movie. He rarely shoots more than three or four takes, sometimes not even telling actors they’re being filmed. For some, especially those used to doing over 100 takes for someone like David Fincher that may be a welcome change, but it makes Eastwood’s films feel impersonal, since not even the actors are given a chance to really inhabit their roles. Cooper, who is very close with the Kyle family, did so much legwork and preparation to play “The Legend” that he’s already under the skin of his character.
That speed also gives some of Eastwood’s films a sort of thrown-together feel, with sparse sets and backgrounds that lack detail. The same is true for American Sniper. This works when Cooper and Miller, who is superb, are laying their emotions on the table or when it’s just Kyle and his target, but there are others where that stripped-down look makes the film seem artificial.
With six Oscar nominations, American Sniper doesn’t need much of a recommendation from someone like me. While a very solid film, it left the impression that someone willing to dig a little deeper would’ve made a far more compelling, and complicated, film.