By Austin Roth-Eagle (Baltimore, MD, USA)
American Sniper is facing wildly mixed reviews. Some critics rave, hailing it as a deep documentary filled with realistic characters and emotions. Others have serious problems with it, claiming it’s patriotic and cheesy. Both types of critics are absolutely correct. How can a movie be filled with so many good and bad things? I’m not sure. But Director Clint Eastwood has found a way to pull it off.
Eastwood is known for his fairly simple film concepts that are formulaic and cliché. American Sniper holds true to this directorial style. The film is pretty well directed. The action sequences are phenomenal. During a few sequences I was at the edge of my seat, heart beating, clutching the arm rests. Eastwood understands action better than most directors in Hollywood today. He adds human qualities to the camera shots, but never too much shaky cam. His use of quick cuts complement these shots perfectly. The sound is also realistic and effective. There are a few scenes that are truly breathtaking, and feel like Katherine Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker.
The character Chris Kyle is pretty well developed as well. I felt like I understood his emotions, and certainly appreciated the emotions Eastwood included when Kyle reaches a dilemma. Cooper played Kyle flawlessly, his performance felt gritty and emotional. The cinematography as a whole is great in the film as well. I was impressed that Eastwood kept such consistently slick camera shots throughout. Eastwood also begins to develop an interesting theme, which works fairly well, the theme of “is it actually great to be considered a legend”. I wish the film stressed this theme more, however.
Through these excellent aspects, there are lots of problems with the film as well. The first half hour or so, which details Kyle’s life, feels almost completely unnecessary and jumbled. Only one scene shown felt truly important from his younger life, and could have been a short flashback. Throughout the film, every character besides Kyle is poorly developed, and feel like vehicles to develop the protagonist’s character. I could feel dynamism in Kyle, but every other characters felt very one sided.
It felt as if every character had one designated role in the film. Much of the conflict of the film felt very cliché and formulaic. The antagonist of the film was the worst. He had absolutely no development. He was not given a single line. The character’s sole role was to provide someone the audience hates for Kyle to hunt down. An antagonist must have development for an engaging conflict, and there was none for this villain, besides the cliché “I’m a terrorist trying to kill the hero.”
Some scenes that take place while Kyle is back in America feel very overdone, such as Kyle suffering from PTSD. These scenes are far too obvious and are not interesting as a result. The very end of the film felt like a bit of a waste. I won’t spoil anything for those who don’t know what happened to Kyle, but the event is not shown at all and could have made for an extremely powerful, suspenseful, and engaging moment to show emotional pain, redemption, and guilt. Finally, the end credits even further hurt the film. Again I will not spoil, but they felt patriotic, which destroyed the interesting theme that was beginning to develop.
American Sniper is not all good or all bad. There are phenomenal aspects of the film, but there are terrible cliché aspects as well. The film is a roller coaster, filled with so many ups and downs that it was difficult to grade. It’s probably worth it to see the film, but do not compare it to the other Oscar nominees of 2014.