Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller bring some emotion to Clint Eastwood’s gun-toting biopic.
Originally helmed by Steven Spielberg but passed to Clint Eastwood, American Sniper stars Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL credited with the highest kill count in US military history during his time in Iraq, with Sienna Miller as his house-bound wife who is left to deal with the repercussions of war and raise their family by herself. The film opens with Kyle on a rooftop in war-torn Fallujah, a mother and child in his sights, forced to make an unbearable choice before flitting back to show his pre-war days and subsequent tours.
As much as the marketing throws Cooper into the front and centre, it isn’t really his turn that steals the show: true, his surprisingly understated performance is refreshing considering the comedy shout-fests that made him famous, but Miller – in the oddly small amount of screen time she’s given – provides the beating heart of the picture as the only one who appears to feel genuine emotions away from the war zone. Bizarrely, the brief glimpses of Kyle’s life at home between tours feel like irritating after-thoughts, intrusions into the life of someone who feels happiest staring down the enemy through a rifle scope whilst the night raids and bombing runs drag on longer and longer.
Whilst Tom Stern’s cool-grey cinematography leads the way in the efficiently achieved battle scenes, the emotional impact of the fighting is examined with a cold, matter-of-fact gaze with the most shocking violence reserved for the Iraqi ‘savages’ whilst the Americans always emerge relatively unscathed. Sniper feels like the polar opposite of Lone Survivor, where the grim reality of battle was a terrifying blood-soaked gut-punch rather than a gusto-fuelled testament to Kyle’s refrain ‘I just came here to kill bad guys’.
Even the final eulogy takes the bible-bashing, rootin’-tootin’ all-American hero route, leaving us uncertain as to whether this is Eastwood desperately appealing to the right-wing of America or simply delivering a true-to-life portrayal of how Kyle would wish to be remembered. Regardless of intentions, the film – however technically well-mounted it might be – never escapes the black and white, heroes versus scumbags’ routine and the scenes of reflection back home are far too brief to have any lasting impact. You want my advice? Go and rent Lone Survivor instead.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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