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Review: American Sniper

Copyright: Village Roadshow Pictures

Clint Eastwood’s latest offering brings trademark intensity and grit, but ultimately fails to grapple with the harsher aspects of its subject matter.

Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in US military history with 160 confirmed kills, is the latest public figure to be stripped down by Clint Eastwood in what could be said is a trademark of the directors colourful and storied career.

6 Oscar nominations later, and Eastwood’s latest offering is breaking box office records and clutching headlines in the States. Was Jason Hill’s script faithful to the ‘real’ Chris Kyle, whom some would rather call a psychopath than a hero? Did the film really boil the soldiering experience down to its core or glorify it?

The Chris Kyle we do get, and the plot we are given by Hill and Eastwood produces a mixed bag of results. Coopers portrayal of Kyle is the highlight here. Undercut with a sensitivity and nuance, Hollywoods current ‘it’ man rightly earns his third Oscar nomination in 3 years. Its strange then, that with a performance so tuned into the deeper psychology of Kyle, that Eastwood offers us so little into the mind of our protagonist. Wider social themes of the reasons for military enlistment are merely brushed over and in what could of perhaps been a central theme of the picture; the analysis of the post war and familial side of Kyle’s life.

This is not to say that this is an idea not explored, but rather an area of potential intrigue that is never really mined to the depths of say, a Mystic River did in terms of its characters and emotive context. Scenes of horror, terrifically executed in sandstorms and bloody afghan tundra do effect the viewer in harrowing ways; but this is almost lost in how the picture has a tendency to brush over the destructive nature of these events on Kyle’s psyche.

Tonally, the film sticks true to every aspect of Eastwood’s cinematic vocabulary. Rigid, never melodramatic and tensely orchestrated set pieces are delivered in welcome spades. The antagonist, however, Sammy Sheik’s fictional Mustafa comes across as an almost cartoonish representation of a terrorist. Although played very well and imposingly by Sheik, Mustafa becomes so wrapped in Call of Duty-esque stereotypes that begin to trivialise what is otherwise a painstakingly gritty flick.

A character piece American Sniper may be, but the balancing act of home and war that Hills’ script treads is one that leaves much left to be desired. The chemistry between Cooper and Sienna Miller, playing Kyles wife Taya presents plenty of fizz but ultimately isn’t given enough time and space to develop; yet the film uses time liberally when on the battlefield. With a sudden ending to boot, one can’t help but wonder where the plot of the films’ priorities lie- in the deep character study it promises or the military action that it produces in spades.

Criticised heavily upon initial release for being U.S military propaganda, Sniper is a film that while being compelling in premise, never quite comes close enough to the core themes of PTSD and the like that one could expect from a Clint Eastwood film, nevertheless a best picture nominee.