Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood Hit The Mark But Not The Bullseye With American Sniper.
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Writers: Jason Hall.
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Mido Hamada.
Playing At: AMC NorthPark.
American Sniper has its sights set on greatness. And it comes pretty close to hitting it, too: The tale of the Texas-born Navy SEAL Chris Kyle — allegedly the most lethal sniper in U.S. history — is indeed expertly directed by Clint Eastwood during its many action scenes.
Unfortunately, the film just misses the mark during its more emotionally charged scenes.
It should be said, though, that this is through no fault of Bradley Cooper, who's been tasked with playing Kyle, or his co-star Sienna Miller, who plays his wife. They're both giving it their all here. And Miller in particular has never been better.
It's just that writer Jason Hall (Spread, Paranoia) seems to cut their scenes short so we can get back to the action. And, of course, there's nothing necessarily wrong to this approach — not on paper, at least. But, in practice, it makes the film rather choppy, leaving audiences with little more than a CliffsNotes take on Kyle's story.
Kyle, as played by Cooper, is a laid-back wannabe cowboy who finds his true calling as a SEAL. Incredibly gifted at eliminating targets from overhead, he eventually earns the nickname “Legend.” But he bears that title reluctantly: His first kill is a 10-year-old boy with a grenade, and his burden just gets heavier from there.
American Sniper, while certainly lionizing Chris, does manage to critique the Iraq invasion, showing that, in the rush to war, not every infantry was properly trained. Luke Grimes plays Marc, Kyle’s best friend in country, and possibly a manifestation of his conscience. As the battles drag on, Marc becomes more disillusioned by the fog of war. So does Chris.
Cooper’s strongest moments are on the domestic front, as he struggles to reconcile his family’s need for him to stay and his own guilt-filled desire to return to the battlefield. Miller, as his wife Taya, has her strongest role to date and plays it exactly right: She doesn't overdo it with her tears or reactions; it’s smart work in a role — that of the supportive wife of a tortured genius — that usually gets stuck hitting the same beats.
The movie feels the most cohesive when it's not trying to have things both ways. The home elements are strong. And, so, too, are the action parts, which come off as a sort of cat-and-mouse thriller, with Kyle trying to exact revenge on the Syrian sniper (Mido Hamada) who killed several U.S. soldiers.
There's just not enough tying these two elements together. It's an issue not all that dissimilar from what bogged down Crazy Heart, which starred Jeff Bridges as a wayward country singer. Both films show men who have serious afflictions that affect their lives in disastrous ways throughout. But the 10-minute turnaround of their lives just don't feel genuine.
Eastwood does his best to make things work, though. And that effort results in one of his best in a while. But there's only so far he can take this script.
Ultimately, American Sniper is an incomplete, if at-times fascinating, portrait of an American hero.