Twitter Plot Summary: Clint Eastwood directs! Bradley Cooper stars! Sienna Miller cries! Somebody holds a fake baby! Lots of people get shot and die!
American Sniper opens with Chris Kyle, America’s most prolific sniper with 160 confirmed kills, in the Middle East watching over a military convoy as it is approached by a young boy and his mother, who are carrying what appears to be a bomb. As he decides whether or not to take the shot, we flash back to his pre-military days, where he proves himself to be a tough nut kid who happens to be an excellent shot with a rifle and, later, a rodeo master. He then realises, thanks to 9/11, that his destiny lies in the military and before long he’s undergoing Navy SEAL training and heading into the war zone.
The latest film from Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper stars as the all-American Chris Kyle, and we get to watch him kill wave after wave of terrorists interspersed with quieter moments in his private life… or is it the other way around? No, that’s definitely the right way around. Sienna Miller plays wife Taya, although she’s only here to act as a counterpoint to the violence of war. Beyond that there is almost no depth to her character and exists primarily to alternate between moaning at Kyle and sobbing down the telephone. Cooper is really the only other leg on which the film stands, and thankfully he is as dependable as ever otherwise this would have been far less interesting.
Shot in Eastwood’s typically sparse style, additional conflict is presented by a rival sniper in a plot point that plays off like a far inferior version of the sniper versus sniper battle in Enemy At The Gates. Their long game of cat and mouse doesn’t add much, mostly because there’s no emotional investment in their less than personal conflict, and because they have no interaction other than the odd sniper bullet aimed in each other’s direction. It doesn’t feel like it’s necessary to the story despite playing a rather large part of it.
So what is American Sniper really about? A flag waving exercise, praising American military authority and efficiency at the expense of the “barbaric” residents in the Middle East? The physical and mental effects of war on combatants, and the knock-on effects on friends and family? The fact that this man is celebrated almost exclusively for being very good at killing lots of people?
It’s a mixture of all of these points, yet never truly excelling at any of them. With that said, it is solidly made, looks good and features an array of solid performances. But then at the same time it is rife with jingoistic cliche, an expected yet still unnecessarily one-sided perspective of the Muslim world, and a story that never feels comfortable in Eastwood’s interpretation of events.
Is it justified to receive Academy recognition? Perhaps, perhaps not. It may try to cover big meaty themes but it handles them in such a way that it doesn’t seem sure what kind of film it wants to be. Plus, trying to ignore the fake baby is like trying to ignore Keith Lemon. Sadly impossible.