2015 Oscar Nominees – American Sniper

21 Feb

American Sniper is the movie adaption of the autobiography of Chris Kyle, the American Navy Seal who is credited with the most number of combat kills in the history of the American military.

The movie begins with Kyle on the roof of a building in the middle east, defending a military squad as they clear a neighborhood of potential insurgents.  Kyle’s mettle is tested when he must make a life-or-death decision involving a woman and a young boy. We then flash back to another act of violence involving a child, this one on an American playground, as Kyle defends his younger brother against bullies.  The family philosophy is summed up that evening by their father: each person is either a wolf (a predator), a sheep (a potential victim), or a sheepdog (a protector).  Young Chris is clearly a sheepdog.  Another childhood scene establishes that Kyle has a gift when it comes to shooting; he is able to make seemingly impossible shots with amazing accuracy.

Fast forward a few years, and Kyle is a rodeo rider with a strong sense of honor, who enlists in the Navy despite being almost 30, following the bombing of a US embassy in Libya.  Seemingly immediately, he becomes a candidate for Navy Seal training, and bests numerous much younger men to make it through the training.  His skills with a rifle make him a natural as a Navy sniper, and the rest of the movie follows Kyle’s adventures in the Navy and at home.

As portrayed by Best Actor nominee Bradley Cooper, Kyle is the living embodiment of the sheepdog mentality, strong, stoic, and unbending.  He knows his course and he stays his course, until his course changes.  Cooper is a fine actor, as he’s proven in previously nominated performances in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.  Here, though, he isn’t given a lot to work with.  There isn’t the sense that there’s a lot going on in Kyle’s interior.

But that’s the fault not of Cooper but of director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall (and maybe of Kyle himself, and the co-writers on his biography).  There aren’t any shades of gray in Kyle’s world, and none depicted here.  In fact, there are some choices that are really questionable, from a storytelling standpoint.  There are points in the narrative where a turning point is reached, but instead of seeing Kyle struggle with a decision and come out the other side a changed man, we as viewers are simply trusted to connect the dots.  In a different type of movie, this might be a sign of respect for the audience.  In this one, it seems to be simply lazy storytelling.  And don’t get me started on the plastic baby. Eastwood also does pay some passing fealty to the time-honored tradition of having an army corps made up of stereotypical ethnic “types”, and other of the war movie tropes are played out as well, among them the guy looking forward to going home who doesn’t quite make it in the way he’d expect, and the opposing snipers as gunslingers tradition.

Again, Cooper does fine with what he’s given, as does a near-unrecognizable Sienna Miller, who does the emotional heavy lifting as Kyle’s wife Taya.  Most of his army buddies are interchangeable, and on the whole, American Sniper is interchangeable with many of the similar movies that have preceded it.

I give it 6 Cheeseburgers

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2 Responses to “2015 Oscar Nominees – American Sniper”

  1. Invisible Mikey February 21, 2015 at 5:09 pm #

    A 10 point rating scale? Pretty “safe” for a critic. You never have to go too far out on a limb in any direction.

    However, I enjoyed reading. Your article includes a lot of detail beyond facile emotional reactions.

  2. CPav February 21, 2015 at 11:46 pm #

    Thanks for the observation, Mikey. We decided to go with the 10 point scale because we felt that it gave a bit more variation than the standard 5 point one. You could argue that (and, honestly, so could I, if I put my mind to it), but its what we went with, and what we’ve stuck with since we’ve been reviewing.

    Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for commenting.

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