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American Sniper (2014)

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Score: 5/10

Genre: War Running Time: 2 hrs. 14 min.

Release Date: December 25th, 2014 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Clint Eastwood Actors: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Keir O’Donnell, Luke Grimes, Max Charles, Kyle Gallner

T

he film begins with immediate tension as Navy S.E.A.L. sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is allowed to make the call concerning shooting a woman and a small child carrying a rocket propelled grenade as they head toward a tank convoy. Flashbacks cut in to detail Chris’ childhood, from learning not to tolerate bullies at school and sticking up for the meek, to killing a deer while hunting, to eventually participating in a rodeo as an adult. Attempting to be a cowboy in Texas with his brother Jeff (Keir O’Donnell) leads to lots of traveling, a cheating girlfriend (Marnette Patterson), and an eye-opening acknowledgement of insignificance. At the age of 30, sensing that there’s more to life than his current mediocrity, Chris decides to join the Navy and attempt to become a S.E.A.L. specializing as a marksman – an accomplishment only a few soldiers have the prowess and eyesight to achieve.

In between training, Chris meets Taya (Sienna Miller), a woman who insists she’ll never marry a S.E.A.L., and strikes up a relationship that, expectedly, ends in marriage. After the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, Chris is even more determined to participate in meaningful protection of the United States. Just after the wedding, he’s shipped off to his first tour, in Fallujah, Iraq, where he’s able to exercise his significant sharpshooting abilities. Providing cover for ground troops occasionally proves less than fulfilling, provoking Kyle to mingle with the Marines during operations to sweep buildings for top Al-Qaeda lieutenant Zarqawi. From locating a sadistic enforcer known as “The Butcher” to understanding his younger brother’s involvement in the service to tracking down a nemesis Iraqi sniper to reuniting with his wife and bonding with his son, Kyle will learn that combat and parenting both present incredible challenges.

Like “The Hurt Locker,” “American Sniper” examines the endeavors of an elite warrior who, while mastering a significant profession, slowly loses his ability to relate to non-combat situations. Despite the constant threat of death in a hostile zone, Kyle is never really comfortable outside of such a chaotic, terrifying environment. Though he’s regarded as a hero, he doesn’t acknowledge heroism as anything beyond doing his duty. Unfortunately, as Chris abandons his responsibilities to his wife and child to rejoin his comrades on additional, lengthy tours, he becomes increasingly less sympathetic. In modern war movies, soldiers always seem to be portrayed as family men uncommitted to finishing what they started (such as supporting a family) – an irony considering they typically insist upon returning to the military to finish what they started (such as armed conflicts that last more than one lifetime).

Like many contemporary war epics, “American Sniper” also ponders the apparent triviality of human lives (particularly when they belong to foreigners), the difficulties of soldiers reintegrating into civilian normalcy, their inability to communicate with people who have no combat experience, and their struggles with notions that average Americans fail to acknowledge the ongoing war and its high costs. Here, there are also graphic depictions of the unspeakable evils of war crimes and the confusion of purpose when enemies momentarily gain the upper hand – or when victory appears too far over the horizon. Uncommonly, there’s also a sense of revenge and extreme dedication that resembles a death wish, fueling multiple returns to an uncompromising mission of ultimately unattainable closure.

Through the eyes of Taya, audiences are also shown the graspable perspective of a loved one frustrated over loneliness and her husband’s reluctance to commingle with society. At one point, she begs him to act human again; she’s tired of his absence, his disconnected behavior, and their loss of emotional congeniality. But this viewpoint certainly isn’t new cinematic ground – nor is his eventual PTSD symptoms.

While all the performances are believable, Cooper’s lines of dialogue are delivered with such indistinct enunciations that it’s regularly difficult to make out his comments. It contributes to his societal detachment, but muddies many of the realistic subtleties of military jargon and camaraderie. The individual missions themselves share the same degree of indistinguishable goals; bullet-riddled disorder and blood-soaked mayhem frequently overshadow specific objectives.

The action sequences, however, are all truly riveting, exhibiting not only a keen sense of choreography but also competent cinematography. Suspense and terror are at spectacular levels. In contrast, the editing fails to give definition or gravity to the array of events in Kyle’s biography, stringing them together with little concern for clarity. And by the conclusion, it’s evident that loose ends are abundant and unconvincing drama is the only ingredient handy to season bland relationship turmoil. Despite separate components possessing effectiveness, “American Sniper” as a whole has great difficulty distinguishing itself from the many other war films of recent years.

– Mike Massie

 



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