Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong and Disturbing War Violence, and Language throughout including some Sexual References
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Jason Hall
(based on the book AMERICAN SNIPER by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen & Jim DeFelice)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Max Charles, Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Sam Jaeger, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict & Navid Negahban
In recent years, audiences seem more willing to watch intense dramas about the Iraq war. It’s not as if these films are prettying up the conflict as the immediate ones springing to mind (ZERO DARK THIRTY, LONE SURVIVOR, THE HURT LOCKER) offer bleak views on the horrors of war and the heavy toll it takes on soldiers. As of writing this review, AMERICAN SNIPER has been nominated for 6 Academy Awards, has broken two box office records (highest grossing January opening, biggest single-day gross) and has gone on to become the second-highest R-rated debut ever. It’s nice to see all of these accomplishments because this movie is a near-masterpiece and the best war movie to come out in a decade.
Chris Kyle was raised from a young age to stand up for those around him. Being a cowboy, Chris can’t help but feel unsatisfied with his direction in life. That’s when he sees news footage of 1998’s US embassy bombings and decides to serve his country. As a Navy SEAL, Chris falls in love with his future wife and becomes a stellar shot behind the trigger of a rifle. He’s sent to Iraq and quickly builds a reputation as a legendary sniper. Chris’s service is seen as he deploys four times through various missions in the war, but we also see the mental and emotional weight this is placing on his shoulders.
AMERICAN SNIPER graphically depicts bloody combat through some of the best wartime sequences that I’ve ever seen. You’re not likely to be cheering as shots are fired, but instead feel yourself placed in the same tough decisions that Chris (and plenty of other soldiers) have to make on a daily basis. Clint Eastwood masterfully directs this film. Things could have easily become very repetitive as this is following a guy whose primary job is to shoot people from long distances. Instead, each sequence stands alone as a memorable piece of the film. Most of which are utterly nail-biting. This is a movie you’ll want to see in Imax (or its equivalents) if you can because it reminded me just how much a good viewing environment can change a solid movie from just a piece of art into an unforgettable experience.
AMERICAN SNIPER isn’t solely centered on Chris in combat though as the viewer is shown enough to realize what a strain this is putting on this soldier’s family life. Bradley Cooper is perfectly cast as Chris, already bearing a remarkable resemblance to him. He’s a likable guy who makes you root for him to save as many people as he possibly can, but it also makes things harder when you him willfully ignoring his obvious PTSD. Sienna Miller (who was recently in FOXCATCHER as well) is remarkable in her role as Chris’s concerned spouse. You feel her frustration with him, but can also grasp why Chris wants to go back and help more people (at the cost to his mental health and normal life).
As brilliantly constructed, acted, and amazing as AMERICAN SNIPER is, I do have one gripe with the film. This is a small compliant but bothered me enough to knock the planned A+ slightly down as I exited the theater. The movie doesn’t necessarily know where to end. It keeps going long after a possible awesome conclusion and there’s a solid reason for that. However, the movie doesn’t spend enough time on that reason and suddenly cuts to a title card giving that information as opposed to showing it. It’s a minor complaint, but enough to take a tiny bit off an otherwise perfect film.
AMERICAN SNIPER should be seen by everyone. It’s an incredible glimpse into the hellish battlefield of war and the toll that it takes on the soldiers in combat and at home. The performances are stellar (Bradley Cooper has proven himself to be a hugely talented actor in any role) and the story is compelling. It does stumble a tiny bit in the ending, but can be otherwise be considered a flawless masterpiece. This is a must-see!