There are a number of reasons why all of the awards buzz has died on 84-year-old Clint Eastwood’s latest squat in the director’s seat. Among them, it takes very little risk, it’s workmanlike and unspectacular–plus it chooses a safe, surface view of someone who must have been a much more complicated man and soldier. It gets its point across rather ham-handedly, though it proves to be one of Clint’s better efforts in a number of years. It’s not a bad motion picture, and it moves briskly despite some over length. Overall, Eastwood’s clearly not in his prime any longer–but his chair isn’t exactly empty just yet. It would helped if this story rang a bit “truer” too. Much of it appears to rely on speculation, propaganda and outright invention.
“American Sniper” is based on the story of real life U.S. soldier Chris Kyle (a very good Bradley Cooper), and his multiple tours of duty in Iraq. Over the course of 132 minutes we briefly witness his stern upbringing at the hands of a combative father. We then follow Kyle’s journey to becoming an excellent soldier and expert marksman. We watch him meet-cute the woman (the beautiful and talented Sienna Miller, in an almost fleshed out role) he loves, and eventually marries. And we voyeuristically experience what it may have been like during war, as he attains legendary status for his skill as a sniper.
Bradley Cooper has had a heck of a year between this, his vocal work as Rocket the raccoon in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and his current Broadway run in the title role in “The Elephant Man”. He’s proving to be much more than a pretty face, but I believe his odds are fading for Oscar because this film is just so doggedly straightforward. It mutes his character’s effectiveness, and bleeds out most of the nuance. Cooper’s skill shines through in many scenes…but he won’t grab an Oscar nom for this work. Neither will Eastwood. Besides, Kathryn Bigelow carried out this story much better in 2009’s Best Picture winner, “The Hurt Locker”. And she did it without turning lead actor Jeremy Renner into a boy scout. Clint sure would’ve benefited from some of Bigelow’s bravery.
next review up: “Still Alice”