Thursday, January 8, 2015

Review: American Sniper is more than patriotic flag-waving

It would be easy to dismiss American Sniper as a patriotic, flag-waving celebration of war based on its premise. It tells the story of Chris Kyle who, after four tours and over 160 confirmed kills in Iraq, became the deadliest sniper in US military history. A true American hero. Aside from the misjudged closing credits, this film looks beyond the star-spangled banner at a complex man and his motivations. 

After the frustratingly dull Jersey Boys, American Sniper marks a welcome return to form for director Clint Eastwood. Even at the age of 84, he is able to portray human drama on the screen like few others. After an incredibly tense opening scene (as seen in the trailer), he looks back and chart's Kyle's transformation from a wannabe Texas cowboy into a cold blooded killer. He is driven by an idealistic desire to protect his country to begin with, but this gradually dissolves into a bitter, relentless thirst for revenge and loyalty to his friends. You may not always agree with his ideas (and as a wannabe pacifist, I certainly didn't), but you can always comprehend the decisions he takes. Bradley Cooper (who originated and produced the project) deserves a lot of credit for his understated, complex central performance.

The war itself is incoherent, tense and brutal. There is no place for politics on the battlefields in Iraq. The frequent action scenes are solid, but the film truly shines in the quieter moments. Kyle's relationship with his wife (a terrific, unrecognizable Sienna Miller) is very well played. It doesn't reach the adrenaline rush of Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker and it could lose a few scenes and clich├ęs, but American Sniper is Clint's best since Gran Torino. 

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