“I don’t know what a Quran looks like.”
American Sniper is as ignorant, misleading, and one-dimensional as the above quote. Instead of being a smart, well-written essay and character study, it comes off as a multiple choice exam with only one answer to choose from for every question. Now I’m sure, almost 100% positive, that my red state compatriots will argue my assessment, will say I have no idea what I’m talking about, that I didn’t even bother to watch the movie. That’s fine by me. Regardless, American Sniper is a laughable representation of a talented, pinpoint soldier. Once the film finally ends you won’t feel closer to the legendary sniper Chris Kyle. We don’t get to know him, nor do we get to look far enough inside enemy lines to justify the gravity of his decisions. The film is trigger happy, ready to shoot us along from once scene to the next without ever stopping to impart the message it so earnestly and obviously sets out to spread. Clint Eastwood, an octogenarian, needs to fold up his director’s chair and step away from the camera. American Sniper ends up as one of the worst directed and written films from 2014 that’s sure to please audiences afraid of being challenged or experiencing moral complexity. The praise it has received leaves me dumbfounded.
Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the one here in this movie, not, and I stress NOT in real life, is portrayed as a vengeful ape. His father drilled into his adolescent mind around the family style dinner table that an eye for an eye is acceptable and sometimes necessary. As an adult he’s a lampooning rodeo man and a wannabe cowboy gunslinger. Then as quick as a Barry Allen flash, a news broadcast informing Chris of a terrorist attack on US Embassies pushes him to enlist as a Navy Seal and into future warfare lore. Major decisions, in real life and especially on film, are heavy-handed and bear immeasurable amounts of weight. Instead of exploring the inner psyche of Chris and his choices all we get is the sense that a patriot, a polite and ferocious fighter, wants to pay retribution to anyone who harms the blessed U.S.A.
As Chris Kyle, Bradley Cooper excels at having a horseshoe dip in his lip and being quietly charming. But disgustingly, and disturbingly, he swallows his emotions as much as he does the sepia spit from his chewing tobacco (not once does he spit that chew, and almost no emotional dialogue, out in the film). You can’t knock Cooper though. He’s really good here, but also undeserving of an Oscar nomination. He’s become one of the Academy’s favorites of late and took up a spot that should’ve been occupied by more deserving actors (David Oyelowo and Jake Gyllenhaal in particular). It’s far from his best role and somehow the film’s best acting comes from side character actor Luke Grimes (man is he compelling here). Eastwood cast Sienna Miller in the role of Chris’ wife Taya, but she’s an emotional distraction who lives in the film’s worst scenes, one in which she just appears in bra and panties to seduce her man. The writers, especially Eastwood, have no idea how to depict a woman. Look at his filmography…sure there’s Million Dollar Baby, which I’d argue isn’t too concerned with femininity. He’s clearly from Mars and has never stepped foot on Venus.
While nice to look at, American Sniper is constantly hard to watch and as enjoyable as a P.E. class mile run. Unlike the chiseled Navy Seals and the rest of the tough mudder ready army men shown, this is indolent in every sense of the word and could not have tried less. Director Clint Eastwood is notorious for shooting only a handful of takes, but never has he seemed so distanced from his work (if not for the unrestrained jingoism and hefty right-wing politics I’d have guessed he had somebody make it for him.) Eastwood gets your pulse pumping in three scenes, but otherwise it’s a standard biopic that somehow manages to hack away the legacy of its protagonist. He’s surrounded by troops of fool-hardy and flag-waving folk who are endlessly reduced to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle dialogue such as, “Whoa!” and “That was gnarly dude!” I’m surprised he didn’t cast Keanu Reeves in a supporting role.
This was an altogether bad movie that became terrible following the birth of the Kyle’s child. I sat there during key scenes and actually said out loud, “Are you f***ing serious?” That’s because this negligent, pandering film expects its audience to be morons, to not notice the fakest, creepiest animatronic infant I’ve ever seen. The weight of it is clearly off as Miller and Cooper awkwardly, and at times even violently, rock and swaddle their “baby”. Its robotic fingers twitch around like the batteries needed changed. But what’s worse is when Taya Kyle is crying, asking her husband if he wants to be with them or not, and you look at Chris. Cooper has to use his thumb to move the baby’s hand and feign its life (watch carefully at the 1:19-1:20 mark in the trailer below). Yes, these are small details, but they’re also crucial and indicative of the film’s jarring flaws throughout. I’m sure the cast and crew did as they were told by Eastwood, afraid he might say, “Get off my set” and smile at the connection to his film Gran Torino.
It’s not Un-American or unpatriotic to dislike, and in my case hate, American Sniper. Chris Kyle’s story should be seen by millions, which it certainly will as it tracks for January’s largest Box Office release of all time, but not like this. The unrealistic storyworld is populated by beer chugging, Call of Duty gamers dressed as Navy Seals and military men, as well as a single woman who is nothing more than a booty call with a ring on her finger. How can anyone take this movie seriously? Eastwood must really admire The Hurt Locker judging by his handling of the material. Yet it never comes close to that truly perfect film from 2008. That movie displays what a life at war can do to a person, how Jeremy Renner’s character isn’t just a soldier. He’s human and vulnerable. Eastwood tries to achieve this by putting Chris in the real world and show us the effects of his PTSD. The extent we get of it is him jumping at the sound of an auto mechanic’s drill and nearly punching a barking dog to death. It hides the sociopathic tendencies he developed post war, as well as the braggadocio he proudly wore on both sleeves. Praise the man if you must, but it’s still the same person who happily claimed to have murdered 30 Hurricane Katrina looters, as well as two men at a gas station. Disagree with me all you want, I expect that. But also take a moment to actually read about him and watch interviews he took part in to understand how narrowly the film depicts his lifestyle and temperamental personality. American Sniper rarely and barely hits a single mark.
“I’m willing to meet my creator and answer for every shot that I took.”
Rating: 1.5 out of 5