American Sniper

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Through the Scope

Clint Eastwood’s newest opus, based on the life of America’s most technically proficient sniper, is smeared with charcoal and flecked with blood. The late marksman in question, Chris Kyle, served his country with pride. Eastwood’s geographic devotion shadows that very theme, bringing the sweat and teeth-gnashing sacrifice of military service into the fray with overcast results.

The typical, almost Ron Howard-like accessibility of Eastwood’s presentation is omnipotent. The grime and saliva spattered dissonance of war is lodged within each frame, but the director’s reined in – and almost parental – sensibilities keep the film from feeling too dangerous at any given time. That said, Eastwood’s direction contains less artifice and shagginess than his recent films – particularly J. Edgar, Hereafter, and Invictus – which have all had their feet in cement due to maudlin scores and obtrusive emotional direction. Still, American Sniper palpitates with that particular Clint-like sheen.

Estranged from the director’s safety net is Bradley Cooper. The actor’s grizzled, steel-chested, and horsepower laden performance as Chris Kyle is the best of his career. Bradley’s drawl is a bourbon soaked pictograph of Americana machismo. Despite the airbags, Eastwood’s film is butane and caffeine, a bullet threading through an energy drink. But the patriotic ideals and muscle flexing is perforated by an emotional syntax. Neither language is subdued, and American Sniper is hulking even in its most muted moments.

An almost unrecognizable Sienna Miller anchors the domestic portion of the sniper’s life. The actress weeps in her trembling hands, and coddles her children. She emotes discomfort and snarls when necessary. Miller’s character is based on a real person, but we’re only given the greatest hits of her emotions. Without a discernible personality, she exists more as an object to move the story in specific directions without the screenplay having to do any heavy lifting.

Though based on Kyle’s life, some of the directing, specifically when an athletic Syrian sniper races over rooftops like an Assassin’s Creed character, is a bit excessive. Some have pointed out that American Sniper is too pro-military, but, if we’re to see the story through the protagonist’s eyes, why wouldn’t it be? Kyle was the protector, the brawn. To look at this film objectively, we have to see through his eyes first, and then our own.

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Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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