Oscar season has officially gotten into high gear since the nominations were made. I’ll go into those later in a new post to give my picks. Occasionally, I’ll go see one of the heavy favorites as Oscar night approaches. American Sniper definitely casts a strong ballot for best picture.
American Sniper chronicles the life of Chris Kyle, a born and raised Texan, who decides to serve his country when he joins the Navy SEALS as a sniper. His pinpoint accuracy help establish him as a legend. When he comes back home to his wife (Sienna Miller) and children, Kyle carries the wounds of war and finds that he can’t leave the battlefield behind.
This film was commanded by director Clint Eastwood so I knew that he would do his best to honor this story but after the film, I wasn’t sure of the message that Eastwood wanted audiences to get. While the film is powerful and honors our soldiers overseas, I believe the emotions of the film were getting lost amid the violence and the psychological aftermath of Kyle’s actions very quickly.
The film does a great job in chronicling the real-life sniper’s four tours in the Iraq War, showing his rise from basic training and being deployed to becoming the most lethal marksman in U.S. History. A bulked-up Bradley Cooper channeled Kyle’s patriotic cowboy charisma with a cool but commanding force, owning the role. Cooper was able to display Kyle’s confidence, intensity, and vulnerability from the horrors of war. Bradley’s performance helped secure his third consecutive Best Actor nomination and I believe that he made a strong case for it.
While the movie is not perfect and the message might get muddled, what is undeniable is the white-knuckle force of the scenes with Kyle taking aim behind the scope of his sniper rifle. The opening scene definitely sets us up for the action. Perched on a rooftop, Kyle looks through the scope and sees an Iraqi mother and child walk into the road. They seem harmless. When the woman pulls out something that might or might not be a grenade to her son. In seconds that seem to stretch on and laced with tension, the audience experiences the pressure Kyle is under by having the choice of life and death behind the pull of a trigger.
American Sniper could have used a few more scenes like this. One major issue that I felt could have strengthened Cooper’s role is how Kyle really feels about what he does. He seems very straight-forward about his mission, seemingly undisturbed by the violence around him until near the end of film. Kyle feels justified in each shot that he took during the war and he doesn’t have that hindsight moment of how bothersome it might be for someone to kill a man. We don’t get into that until near the last half hour of the film, when Kyle returns home and haunted by his experience. There should have been more sprinklings of that throughout the movie.
Overall, the film might seem like a repetition of combat missions and one-dimensional targets like other war films but it is more than that because of Eastwood’s direction and Cooper’s performance that pushes it above the others. While I’m not sure if it’ll win the Best Picture award (The Theory of Everything, anyone?), Cooper definitely should have serious consideration for Best Actor.
I definitely recommend this film if you are looking for a great Oscar-nominated flick to go to the theater to see and I’ll almost guarantee that you’ll hear a few claps from some members of the audience.