2014

Film #509: American Sniper (2014)

As I’m somewhat of a completest I couldn’t finish this blog without reviewing the eight films that were nominated for Best Picture this year. All of these reviews were written before the ceremony itself so all of the predictions are what I felt at the time. The last of these four posts will also include who I think should and will win Best Picture at this year’s ceremony.

We start with a film that I believe will be at the bottom of my list for 2015 nominees, that being American Sniper. Directed by Clint Eastwood, American Sniper tells the story of Chris Kyle; the most deadly marksman in U.S. military History. The film is based on the memoirs of Kyle, a sniper who had 160 of his kills confirmed by the department of defence. Jason Hall’s adaptation of Kyle’s book, which has been nominated for a screenplay Oscar, is a nuts and bolts affair from the offset. Although the opening shot is of Kyle in Iraq it soon flashes back to his childhood in which his father instructed him to be a sheepdog; a man who protects those weaker than him when the wolves attack. This ethos is one he carries with him during his military training and then in Iraq when we see him at work. The film also looks at Kyle’s relationship with his Taya; from their first meeting to their wedding and the birth of his two children. I personally felt that the best scenes were those which featured both Chris and Taya, with the latter feeling that her husband wasn’t mentally with her anymore. The scenes which looked at the impact that the war had had on Chris were definitely my favourite as it added a little context to a character who otherwise was simply a flawless American hero. Whilst former soldiers being haunted by the war is nothing new, this part of the film at least gave it an edge which it lacked elsewhere. In fact, if it didn’t had this, then it would’ve been even more of a flag-waving endeavour which basically promotes the bible-bashing American soldiers and berates anyone who stands in their way.

One of American Sniper’s key strengths is Eastwood’s simplistic direction which lends itself well to the scenes in which we follow Kyle’s movements in Iraq. I’m not surprised that the film picked up nods in the editing and sound categories as the use of gunfire effects is made especially effective. In fact the sound is so good that gunfire almost becomes a character in and of itself especially when the Iraqi sniper is trying to hunt down Kyle. I personally would’ve like to have seen more of this Iraqi sniper as it would’ve added an ambiguity that the single-minded American Sniper was sorely missing. Instead the Iraqis are presented as either terrorists or, in Kyle’s own words, savages. One thing that did impress me in American Sniper was Bradley Cooper’s Oscar-nominated turn as Kyle, primarily as he dialled down his usual manic nature. Cooper’s chisel-jawed look perfectly suited the character of Kyle but he also conveyed his character’s inner turmoil excellently. Sienna Miller was similarly impressive as, in the past, I’ve found her to be quite an inconsistent performer but here she added some heart to the movie as Chris’s wife Taya. My early prediction is that American Sniper doesn’t do to well at the Oscar but may pick up one of the two sound-based awards it’s nominated for. Ultimately I felt that American Sniper didn’t have anything new to say in terms of the horrors of war that we hadn’t already seen in Coming Home, Apocalypse Now or more recently The Hurt Locker. Whilst Cooper’s performance and Eastwood’s direction was solid, the flag-waving patriotism was too much for me to take and I can definitely say that American Sniper isn’t a film that I’ll be rushing to see again in the near future.

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