Film Review: American Sniper

American Sniper Poster

American Sniper Plot Summary:

Based on the true story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), who became a legendary sniper in the 2000’s during the Iraq war.  As Kyle’s status in the war continues to rise, he struggles to adapt at home with his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids, going back for several more tours.

Sometimes you know in the first ten seconds whether a movie is going to be great or not.  American Sniper is one of those movies.  Director Clint Eastwood wastes no time in pulling the viewer head first into the intense world that is Chris Kyle.  Where American Sniper succeeds where so many other war films fail, is that you aren’t being pulled into some cliché war scenario where the characters are flat and uninteresting (Lone Survivor), or some big bombastic two hour battle (Black Hawk Down).  American Sniper is in the vein of The Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty.  It’s about the character.  It’s about the pressure and weight that this man or woman holds, and how the agony of that pressure translates to when you re-enter normal society.  And as much as I like Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, it’s Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper that perfect this formula.  It’s one of the best war films I’ve seen in years.  No question.

American Sniper pic 1

Clint Eastwood has made about 95 billion movies, so obviously there are going to be some stinkers in there (J. Edgar).  For him to deliver something this damn good at 84 years old is astounding.  He directs the shit out of this movie.  It’s perfectly shot, and in an age where editing has been a real sore subject in film the last few years, I was amazed at how clean and tight this was.  It’s best if you go into this movie not knowing a ton about it.  The way he sets up that first scene where Kyle is forced to make an impossible decision with his sniper rifle (you see it in the trailer) is brilliant, and Eastwood really pulls the rug out from under you in that first sequence.  I can’t praise the directing enough.  He nailed it.

There’s a reason why Bradley Cooper now has three consecutive Oscar nominations.  The way this guy has diversified himself as an actor has really been impressive, and as much as I loved his performance in last year’s American Hustle, this is the best acting he’s ever done.  There’s a moment where he’s watching the 9/11 attacks on TV, and the look he gives perfectly captures what every American was feeling at that time.  There’s one scene in particular though that justifies his nomination.  It’s another sequence where he’s forced to make a tough call on a shot, and Cooper just reaches that perfect level of acting, both in during, and the aftermath of what ultimately takes place.  Incredible.  One of my other favorite moments is right after he makes his first kill.  His fellow solider congratulates him, and the line of dialogue, and Cooper’s delivery of it, sums up this character beautifully.  The only problem I had with the characterization was the over use of the word “legend” whenever Kyle walked into a room, but that’s not Cooper’s fault.  I can’t throw out enough compliments.  It’s one of the best performances of 2014.

Speaking of the dialogue, I was also impressed with Jason Hall’s script.  In a movie like this, you probably aren’t going to notice the level of writing, but I think that’s where so many recent war pictures have faltered.  When you look at something like Fury, it’s these overly complex, cluttered speeches that are completely empty.  American Sniper doesn’t screw around.  It’s efficient, sharp, and powerful.  One of the biggest elements to this whole movie is the relationship between Kyle and his wife, Taya (Miller).  If you don’t buy this relationship, the movie doesn’t work, and their first meeting is all you need.  It’s perfect.  Miller does a great job of giving this character a lot of personality.  What helps flesh out Kyle’s character are the non-war scenes between him and Taya.  Her dialogue does a great job of delving deeper into what this guy is going through between his family, duty, and the overall psychological issues we’ve seen explored in war movies before, but it’s working at a high level here.  There are plenty of scenes outside his wife, both subtle and dramatic, that explore this just as well.  Bottom-line – this script gets right to the point.

Sniper pic 2

I talked about Eastwood’s great direction earlier, and that shows in the battle scenes as well.  Thank you.  Thank you for not shaking the camera every ten seconds.  Thank you for not having these overly long, boring battles that never end.  These are well shot, tense, easy to follow, and they actually take a breath for the characters to interact.  There’s a clear focus and goal.  There’s an early battle scene where Eastwood has to juggle a lot of action, but it’s never messy.

I wish the supporting characters around Kyle were a little better.  The relationship with Kyle’s brother (Keir O’Donnell) was interesting at first, but that gets left for dead.  While not super memorable, I cared about what happened to the soldiers around Kyle, because you cared about how they affected him.  They do give Kyle a rival sniper though, and that conflict fires on all cylinders.

While there’s a few questionable directing choices, including a couple overly dramatic moments in the last battle, this is one of Eastwood’s finest directorial efforts.  It’s one of those movies that continued to show clips during the end credits, and not a single person got up from their seat.  Fair warning – a lot of people cried.  For me, this is one of the best war movies since Saving Private Ryan, and one hell of a character piece.

Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.
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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.