Film Review: American Sniper

Directed by Clint Eastwood and based on Chris Kyle‘s autobiography American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, with screenplay by Jason Hall, American Sniper stars Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. Kyle’s pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. But there was much more to this true American hero than his skill with a rifle. But upon returning home to his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids after four tours of duty, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.

American Sniper has had a many mixed reviews after its recent release. I guess a lot of it’s down to the central character of Chris Kyle. Should we hold him up as a hero and nothing more because of the life he lived and died for? Or is it okay to find flaws in his character? It’s this battle that goes on in your mind throughout watching, but it’s also what makes American Sniper such a strong character study.

However, if this wasn’t a true story about a man so many people cared about, it would have been a very average film. For the first two-thirds we see Chris in various war scenarios. This war is still a very fresh topic in our minds and we all know someone who was a part of it or somebody effected by it in some way, so the story does have a big impact and importance and to see what it was like for these soldiers was incredibly insightful. But, at the end of the day, a war film is war film, and for these first two-thirds there wasn’t too much that stood out. There are a handful of intense moments when you dread to think what’s coming, but overall it was quite dull and disengaging.

This is for one reason – American Sniper is a character story, and for the most part of the film it’s hard to feel much at all for the lead character if you don’t know anything about how the story plays out. As somebody who hadn’t heard about Kyle’s life, I spent a large part of my time not caring very much. Focusing on Chris’ life on tour we get to see how the balance between war and family life tipped, but this is also what prevented his character from being very sympathetic or engaging. Instead, it kind of puts you off him, as a father and a husband at least, and it’s only in the final act that you see him as the inspiration and hero that he is. I guess it’s quite an accurate depiction of his life, because his PTSD switched off his brain to feel these emotions himself, but it’s just not very appealing for a biopic on-screen.

A film like this needs a bit more heart; it needed a lot more focus on his time at home in-between tours and after quitting so that we could see more about how it changed him as a person and how this affected his relationship with his wife. It’s only really hinted at that things weren’t going very well in the few minutes on-screen he spends back home, whilst we, as the audience, needed to see his wife falling to pieces and the struggle going on in his mind so that we can feel emotional about what was happening.

That is only until the end, though. It may have been a bit late, but American Sniper‘s final scenes bring the whole film together perfectly, and leave you feeling much better about it than you did during the rest. It is in these scenes when the film starts to focus on Chris as a person we can relate to and as the sole focus and heart of the film as we are finally made to feel empathy towards him. Again, it’s a little late as the film needed this throughout, but it ends the film on a real high (a sad high but a high for Eastwood’s directing!).

What American Sniper excels in is its performances. Bradley Cooper really is outstanding, and his physical alterations are a tremendous effort. Sienna Miller is also very engaging and the pair make a powerful on-screen couple.

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