Favorite

Hero study 

'Sniper' doesn't delve into character.

'AMERICAN SNIPER': Jake McDorman(left) and Bradley Cooper star.

'AMERICAN SNIPER': Jake McDorman(left) and Bradley Cooper star.

It's hard to evaluate "American Sniper" on its merits alone, without considering its subject, the late Chris Kyle. The sharpshooter killed something like 255 people in Iraq, a stupefying total for a single lifetime, even if you accept only the confirmed number of 160. That's a hell of a lot of humans to perforate across four tours, and it raises plenty of questions about who could accomplish such a grisly feat. What we get, with Clint Eastwood directing an adaptation of Kyle's autobiography, is a view into the events and the mind of a trigger-squeezing maestro. It's gripping, gritty and tense. What it isn't, in any meaningful way, is surprising. If anything, this is a too-reverent, too-pat depiction of a soldier who became something of a folk hero. He lived an exceptional life, but this is not a particularly exceptional film.

Part of the deficiency may stem from Kyle's version of his own story — being the sort of person whose job it is to execute people at the end of a rifle scope, self-reflection might not have been his strongest suit. But if you were going to check off boxes in the list of what, say, a German or Argentine or Russian or an Egyptian might assume about American military hagiography, it would start with something along Kyle's thumbnail bio. Born in West Texas; scenes of hunting and church as a kid; sticking up for his kid brother on the playground; unfulfilling stint as a rodeo cowboy ... then he finds the Navy Seals and a wife just in time for 9/11 to dragoon him into the Middle East. Kyle is not a perfect man, but he is a righteous man, family man, whose only stated regrets about shooting people is that he couldn't save all his friends. Sticking the word "American" in front of a title is a shade grandiose, but Kyle really feels like an everyman who became known among his comrades simply as "The Legend."

Bradley Cooper's up for the Oscar for his portrayal of Kyle, and he's quite fine in the role. He brings a long stare and a paunchy lower lip that looks like it's concealing a plug of dip. The Oscar-nominated script, adapted by Jeff Hall, isn't much given to soliloquy, to say the least — if Cooper gets to say four consecutive sentences anywhere in the movie, it didn't happen often, and those tended to be short-burst sentences. Cooper won't get to haunt you, because the plot feels skimpy, rushed. Even at 132 minutes, it might be 20 minutes too lean. As the war grinds Kyle down, we finally see his façade crack in the final act, and Cooper's portrayal of Kyle's keyed-up snap judgments to shoot or not carry a frightening weight.

The scenes of Kyle's life in Texas are less steady. The dialogue still has to pull too hard to feel quite natural, and aside from Kyle's grim ending — treated here with admirable restraint — none of it feels particularly new. Sienna Miller ably plays Kyle's wife, but insofar as every scene focuses on Kyle, she's primarily support for childrearing and to clock in to tell him (and the audience) that the war is changing him. So everyone watch for that transformation.

On balance "American Sniper" is more subtle than that, and crafted well enough. There's just a sense of having been here before. It plays like a real-life "Hurt Locker" as much as anything. That surprise low-budget flick roared to the Best Picture Oscar in 2010, becoming the lowest-earning movie ever to do so. "American Sniper" cost four times as much to make, and in its first weekend earned six times what "Hurt Locker" did in total. Perhaps Kyle's celebrity, Eastwood's brand and the Oscar buzz propelled "American Sniper," but I suspect at least it's doing gangbusters because it's how America wants to see its soldiers right now, less through messy geopolitics, more through individual sacrifice and righteousness, with a splash of martyrdom. It's not a bad movie. But it's far from as captivating as you'd expect, given its decoration.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

Readers also liked…

  • Not much to 'Love'

    In Judd Apatow's new Netflix original series.
    • Feb 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • Executionpalooza

    Appearances count. I was struck by a single sentence over the weekend in a full page of coverage in The New York Times devoted to the killing spree in Arkansas, beginning with a front-page account of the recent flurry of legal filings on pending executions and continuing inside with an interview with Damien Echols, the former death row inmate.
  • Art bull

    "God, I hate art," my late friend The Doctor used to say.
  • Not justice

    The strongest, most enduring calls for the death penalty come from those who feel deeply the moral righteousness of "eye-for-an-eye" justice, or retribution. From the depths of pain and the heights of moral offense comes the cry, "The suffering you cause is the suffering you shall receive!" From the true moral insight that punishment should fit the crime, cool logic concludes, "Killers should be killed." Yet I say: retribution yes; death penalty no.
  • Judge Griffen writes about morality, Christian values and executions

    Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who blogs at Justice is a verb!, sends along a new post this morning.
  • The Ledell Lee execution thread

    Arkansas Times contributor Jacob Rosenberg is at the Cummins Unit in Grady filing dispatches tonight in advance of the expected execution of Ledell Lee, who was sentenced to death for the Feb. 9, 1993, murder of Debra Reese, 26, who was beaten to death in the bedroom of her home in Jacksonville.

Latest in Movie Reviews

Visit Arkansas

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Event Calendar

« »

April

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30  
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation