American Sniper

Clint Eastwood's latest continues his trend of subpar movies. His, along with actor - and fellow producer - Bradley Cooper's vanity project is a Left politico film - bordering on propaganda -disguised as an unintelligent, appeal-to-the-masses, mediocre to poor war film/biopic that is all bravura with no soul.  

Eastwood's directorial downward trend started from Grand Torino, and cemented with Hereafter, but even Hereafter - for all its preposterousness - had more redeeming factors than this heartless, cold and uneven film. It is hard to believe it is the same director who gave us the brilliant and balanced war films Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. As a war film American Sniper pales in comparison to recent films like The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan; and as a film exploring PTSD, it barely cleared the topsoil (catch Jim Sheridan's criminally under-watched Brothers starring Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman to see PTSD done right). 

There were some moments through the 132 minutes that Eastwood did do right, but mainly it was more in heightening the tension than anything else. And a great opening scene! However, all that good work was quickly erased by his persistent depiction of the enemies as one-dimensional stereotypes and the Americans as the archetypical near-invincible heroes. Yawn. 

Then we have narrative issues. For biopics, compressing the timelines become an issue and Eastwood and this year's Oscar-nominated writer Jason Hall gave us the war highlights but lost the continuation and, most importantly, the heart of the story. We neither get to appreciate the camaraderie between the men at war, or the emotional ties at home. For the soldiers, we barely even knew most of them so it is hard to care about their survival or their mission(s); and you know something bad is going to happen when Hall and Eastwood decides to let a bit of backstory in. Lazy writing/directing. And with things at home, we are told what's happening and not shown. Lazy writing/directing again. 

Like The Iron Lady or even this year's The Imitation Game, a great actor can make a lot of difference to a mediocre biopic. Putting it politely, Cooper - who is also a producer in this film - is not anywhere near that level, his two past (not very deserving, IMHO) Oscar nominations notwithstanding. A thousand yard stare does not a PTSD maketh. Jake Gyllenhaal was very definitely robbed! This is not saying that Cooper is not a good actor, there was one or two moments where he did do well, but just one or two. Moments. Not scenes. Even in the war zone, Cooper seemed to have only two modes: I am a sniper so I have to be calm and collected; and I am a fucking SEAL, see me go all Alpha shit. Yawn. 

Cooper and Siena Miller had no chemistry. Poor Miller, she really was just a pretty vase here in an effective, but perfunctory role. 

Tom Stern's cinematography had some good wide-angled landscaping shots but the urban and night warfare scenes were oddly lighted. Eastwood needs to stop meddling with the music of his films. 

American Sniper is unlikely going to win any of its six Oscar nominations, but it goes to show what's the demographics of the voting Academy is like. Even just taking it as a movie, without any political connotations, it's still only really just mediocre. 


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