***** (out of 5)
December 25, 2014
Bradley Cooper as CHRIS KYLE
Sienna Miller as TAYA RENAE KYLE
Max Charles as COLTON KYLE
Luke Grimes as MARC LEE
Kyle Gallner as GOAT-WINSTON
Sam Jaeger as CAPTAIN MARTENS
Jake McDorman as BIGGLES
Cory Hardict as D
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
While I enjoy watching Clint Eastwood as an actor, I’ve never been a regular fan of the man as a director. Oh, he’s done some fine films. Some of his recent movies that I particularly like are “Gran Torino,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.” But for every one of these fine films are others that range from ho-hum to boring… movies like “The Changeling,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “J. Edgar” and “Jersey Boys.”
However, Eastwood turns in one of his best films in years with “American Sniper.” I was skeptical when I first saw a trailer, and I wasn’t sure I’d like it going into the theater. However, by the time the movie was over, I was floored. It was one of the most powerful films I’d seen all year, and it topped my list of the 10 Best Films of 2014.
“American Sniper” tells the true story of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. Like many biopics, it starts when he’s younger and just enters into his military career. Then the film follows him through training to become a Navy SEAL, where he finds a specialty as a sniper. The movie primarily focuses on Kyle’s military life, as well as how he balances the guilt, emotion and trauma when he comes back home.
What impressed me the most about “American Sniper” is that it is unlike any war movie I have seen in recent memory, and we have Eastwood’s gentle and deliberate hand to thank for this. “American Sniper” isn’t there to be a Michael Bay action movie. Sure, there are explosions and gunfire, and the film takes a few scenes to throw Kyle into the thick of combat, taking some liberties with the real-life timeline and missions he was on. However, those are forgivable to me because they are done with artistic license to help the flow of the movie.
At its core, “American Sniper” is there to look at the mind and experiences of an American in combat. It’s not there to contemplate the legality or reasons behind the war. That’s irrelevant to the subject matter because that’s not how the military works. In real life, orders are followed without question of the top-down motivations. I know a lot of critics of this film don’t like that concept, but that’s the way the military works. If it didn’t work that way, it would not be an effective military.
Whenever a film like this is released which honors the military, it is often criticized for being jingoistic and glorifying violence. However, this is not how I see “American Sniper.” Does the character state on multiple occasions that he believes the United States is the greatest country in the world? Absolutely, he does. However, this is how Chris Kyle felt in real life. It’s a truth of his character. You can disagree with that statement all you want, but diverting the film away from this takes away from the focus subject of the film.
Even then, this movie doesn’t exist to dog the American military, which is something that happens all too often with recent movies about war. Gone are the days of the World War II propaganda film that happily paints the Axis as caricature enemies. Now, Hollywood relishes in blaming the soldier, dehumanizing them into PTSD-crippled head cases and turning the screws to officials who left office years ago.
“American Sniper” doesn’t do this. It honors the men and women in uniform, but it also shows the struggles they go through in combat. Contrary to what I’ve seen other say about this film, the characters don’t relish murdering “brown people” regardless of their age, sex and purpose. In reality, “American Sniper” shows the harsh and morally questionable decisions Kyle has to make when it’s his job to protect the boots on the ground.
And that baggage is brought home, another point that Eastwood doesn’t ignore. We clearly see the emotional battle scars that soldiers, SEALS, airmen and marines bring home with them. However, instead of wallowing as victims of PTSD, Eastwood shows that these are conditions that can be – and are being – treated, allowing combat veterans to return to society not as the basket cases depicted in other films but as upright American citizens.
Is “American Sniper” a bit of a flag-waving film? I suppose so, but not every movie about the American military has to be about scandal and torture and the victimization of innocents by a thin minority. “American Sniper” celebrates the American military, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there should be more of it going on.