Monday, 19 January 2015

American Sniper (15)

War, huh? What is it good for?

Well, if nothing else, films detailing the horrors the men and women who sign up to fight. It's great for that.

And let's not forget, without war we wouldn't have some amazing films - Armadillo, Green Zone, The Hurt Locker, they've all dealt with the drama and politics brilliantly.

American Sniper, though?

Not so much.

Now, you've got to tread carefully here, because Sniper deals with an American hero.

Chris Kyle (played here by Bradley Cooper, nominated for Best Actor in this year's Oscars for this very role) is credited with 150 (or 160, according to the film) kills while on four tours of duty in Iraq.

He became known as Legend by his fellow soldiers, all of whom said they felt safer knowing he was looking out for them while they went about their duties.

So, they guy was good, and his is a story that warrants telling (and going by the opening weekend figures from America, people wanted it told).

It's just, well, it hasn't been told well.

It starts off brilliantly. Kyle is on a roof top, things happen, and he's faced with a decision none of us would want to make.

He's thinking, his heart is pounding, you're there with him on the edge of your seat, gripped...

His finger grips the trigger...

...and BOOM! We're flashed back to his childhood and start the journey of how he came to be on the roof.

And in that moment, all drama and tension is lost.

From there it's a slow slog back to to the start - and I mean slow. Thirty minutes in and it felt like an hour had passed.

By the time Kyle's grown up, shown his girlfriend to be unfaithful, met his wife (a brilliant portrayal by Sienna Miller) and been deployed, you've stopped giving a toss about any of it.

And that's the problem with the film.

Despite Cooper's fine performance (it's not Oscar worthy though), this is a one note film.

It's a rallying cry for the war on terror. Those nasty insurgents (or locals, as they like to be called) are after our brave boys and America's way of life, and the American Sniper is all that stands between us and them.

There's no balance here. No context. No questions asked.

Actually, there is some context - we get to watch 9/11 on CNN with Kyle and Taya, so we know why all this is happening.

Subtle it isn't.

But we know nothing of the the people he's fighting - in particular, nothing of the Iraqi sniper who becomes Kyle's nemesis.

We find out late on he's got a family and a child (hey, he's human too guys...), but by then you've lost the will to live and are just praying for it all to end.

We see how the war affects Kyle's relationship with Taya and his children. We get to see how he holds a baby doll (honestly, was a real child not available for this scene?). We get beaten over the head with the pro-conflict rhetoric.

We have to assume that Kyle did indeed chat to his wife while on rooftop sniper duty, given it's taken from his own book, but such scenes raise more questions than provide any answers or context.

And that's the theme all the way through. For a film based on a real man's life and account of his actions, it somehow fails to ring true.

Part of that is caused by the pace of the film, part of it by the detached approach Clint Eastwood has taken to his direction.

You don't warm to any of the characters, and everything just feels cold and slightly remote.

Which is odd given just how hot it is in Iraq.

And then, finally, we get to the final scenes.

Now, if - like me - you were unaware of Kyle's story, you won't know how this film ends. But if you can't guess from the way it's shot, from the leaden approach, the Hallmark-esque stylings, then you should just give up watching films.

You've clearly learnt nothing.

And this bit comes after a genuinely jaw-dropping piece of machismo filming that even Michael Bay would have thought twice about.

Now I know Clint is a Republican and pro-war and pro-guns, but even he must look back at it and think he over did it a tad.

In a way I'm glad I stayed til the end (the urge to walk out was over-whelming) because it's an important story and the guy certainly made his mark.

But the telling of his story deserved better than this.

It deserved heart, soul, real emotion. Instead it shot itself in the foot.


  1. Good opening:-) seen michael moore on this?

  2. Yeah, him and Seth Rogan have had quite the Tweets.
    Seems to have fired up quite a few racists too