Directed by Clint Eastwood, American Sniper is a true-story war drama about Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most deadly sniper in U.S. military history, racking up 160 confirmed kills in his four tours of service. Saying almost anything else could be considered a spoiler, as with most biopics, as it has less of a traditional narrative and has more of a series of events that happen to a person. It must be known that if you want your story to survive on its bare bones, those bare bones better be incredible, and this is only one of many areas where American Sniper falls short.
Despite being nominated for Best Picture, and snagging a Best Actor nomination for Cooper, the film does not live up to those nominations even in the slightest. Firstly, even though the central subject certainly had some interesting achievements in his military career, and you could definitely make some points about war through his life, the story itself is nothing particularly different or unique. He’s a soldier, like any other, if the film is to be believed. His main identifier is that he’s a very good soldier, but that sure as hell isn’t enough to base a film around.
He’s an American family man, who loves his family and his country. The amount of jingoistic flag-waving is significantly less than it could have been, but the film is without a doubt waving the flag of the main character. Essentially his only conflict is going back to war when his wife doesn’t want him to, sacrificing his family life for loving his country too much. This is the same character flaw as when people put I’m a perfectionist as a weakness on their CV. It’s the same as the other Oscar-nominated (and similarly undeserving) biopic The Theory of Everything, which also eschewed actually examining it’s subject and instead settled for paying lip-service to it.
Even though the trailers and advertising might have you believe different, the film is an action flick, essentially, as the sequences of battles in war-torn cities take up at least half the running time. These sequences are probably the best the film has to offer, as the early sniper set pieces are extremely tense and very well put together. However, at 132 minutes, the action sections get repetitive, as you’ve seen one ruined Middle Eastern city, you’ve seen them all.
The film has been in development since 2012, with Steven Spielberg attached to direct originally. Spielberg’s version was set to have an ˜enemy sniper’ figure, who would show the battle from both sides of the conflict, and give the story more psychological clarity. When Spielberg dropped out due to budgetary concerns, Eastwood almost immediately replaced him. The problem with changing Spielberg’s ˜dual sniper’ concept is one that Eastwood himself created. The type of war film to portray that conflict from one side and one side only comes across as at best quaint, and at worst horrifically naÃ¯ve. This is largely due to Eastwood’s companion films Flags of our Fathers and Letters From Iwo-Jima, which took two entire films to portray World War II from both the American and Japanese sides equally.
This is totally lost on American Sniper, which is totally one-sided and doesn’t even remotely try and give the ˜bad guys’ (as they are consistently referred to) any kind of depth or character. The main nemesis is called ˜The Butcher’ and only has about one line in the entire running time. Every side looks like the enemy to the other, which is a maxim American Sniper could well take to heart rather than just portraying everyone on the opposing side as an inherent evil-doer. It’s even implied through the action, as it wouldn’t be a clichÃ©d war film if the villains didn’t die in one hit, and every American soldier that gets shot has to go through an emotional death scene while reminding us of their families and the tragedy of it all, before they die and a somber funeral scene is shoved in our faces. Ignoring the fact that this is implying that the Iraqi soldiers didn’t have families too and that they’re just sadists who wear cowardly face-scarves, this is blatant emotional manipulation of the highest order.
By all matters of substance, this is no more sophisticated than a Call of Duty game. Granted, the narrative isn’t as barmy as Call of Duty, but the techniques are the same; patriotism, waves and waves of foreign bad guys with no humanity or soul, memorial scenes with sad trumpets, and even the ˜shocking moment’. In fact the ˜shocking moment’ is eerily similar to the example in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
American Sniper simply is too clichÃ©d and too unremarkable and mediocre to warrant not only the awards but it’s very existence. Bradley Cooper and the supporting cast do fine and play the roles well, but again it’s nothing spectacular and to be nominated for the industry’s supposed highest honour is nothing short of baffling.