A lot. A lot. A lot has been written about the politics and patriotism surrounding American Sniper. Its almost impossible to separate a war film from the opinions one has of that war, especially one so recent. I don’t want to retread ground already written so effectively by others. I didn’t leave the theater feeling offended or patriotic. Instead, I was left feeling underwhelmed.
Whoever made the initial American Sniper trailer should win an award. I saw the trailer three times in the theater and couldn’t wait to see the film. It had a real weight to it and in two minutes I felt the conflict a soldier would have during war.
The full length film had none of that power and glossed over the hard choices. American Sniper is based on the book by Navy SEAL Chris Kyle so I actually don’t have a problem with the black and white viewpoint the film takes because apparently it is even more pronounced in the book. The issue is more that if the main character has no internal conflict with what they are doing and there are minimal secondary characters with differing viewpoints, then as a viewer you start to just see everything through Kyle’s eyes, easy decisions that become routine.
Bradley Cooper does good work as the all or nothing soldier who, from childhood, always attached to the role of protector. In an early scene in the film we see Kyle as a kid stand up for his younger brother and his dad gives a speech about being a sheep dog. Don’t be the evil wolf, or the helpless sheep but he the protector of the flock.
After the earlier scenes with his brother and dad, we only see his brother once more when they meet in passing as his brother is leaving Iraq and Kyle is returning for another tour. His brother, unlike Kyle, hates it in Iraq and is obviously not a sheep dog. He says a negative comment about the war and then is never seen again. Even after Kyle comes back home and is “healed” his parents and brother are never mentioned. Its these small missteps that don’t give the film any real sense of the whole picture of this man’s life.
The wife, Taya (Sienna Miller) is especially grating. The problem with the film interspersing the war scenes with short returning-home scenes is that you get a very narrow and small picture of this woman. This makes her come across sole as a whiney wife. I know plenty of military wives who are strong, independent and of course they miss their husbands and worry about them constantly when they deploy. The issue I take with Taya, is we only see her crying and begging his to stay. When they first meet she says she’d never marry a SEAL and then she spends the rest of the film asking him to stop being a SEAL.
Halfway through the film I caught myself thinking, “This isn’t a bad film for a new director,” then realizing I already knew it was directed by Clint Eastwood. The film feels so middle of the road. The layout of his tours and home time becomes repetitive and the war scenes lack any real energy. I appreciate the conversations the film has started but lets not confuse important political debate for a great film because this one is only meh.