Heroes and villains are in the world today and Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper looks to shed light on them. But sadly what it also forgets is that there is a human being on both sides of the conflict and while we may favor one, the other is still there, which turns the film flat and into a rather forgettable entry into the genre of war films depicting the recent Iraq-Afghanistan conflict.
American Sniper follows Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a Navy SEAL sniper whose pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.
We’ve seen this war before in multiple other films from Jarhead to The Hurt Locker and even in documentaries like Restrepo, but American Sniper decides to focus in on one man (Kyle) and the actions that he did while on his tours for the war. Since there have been so many films before, we know what life is like there. The struggles as soldiers become accustom to insurgents in the streets and anti-American views that populate the areas around them. They are all there, and American Sniper never feels the need to break from the cliches and dive into the more interesting subjects such as the PTSD that Kyle suffers from and the mirroring of his life and duty compared to the enemy sniper that he so furiously chases: Mustafa.
If American Sniper has one major fault, it is that it never feels different or better than the other war films. It never brings anything new to the table that would warrant wanting to dive into it more. Instead, it seems to more feed what people want to see (Kyle killing many Al-Qaeda members and saving lives) and not the hard truth, that war is hard and left a massive toll on the man’s life.
In multiple instances in the film, either his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and his friend Marc (Luke Grimes) pose the question to Chris that maybe there is more to life than being a hero in war and what the whole point of it was. Chris constantly retorts that it is to save American lives and the country that he loves, but back home it seems like it is only hurting him. He comes back in shambles each time and seems distant from his loved ones to the degree that it feels like he never left.
Eastwood directs the film lazily and this hurts the overall product because it never deals with the real issue plaguing this character, which is his staunch patriotism. He is dubbed “Legend” by the other soldiers, but this is a title that Chris seems to resent. Later in the film, when a veteran says that maybe he is the legend after hitting a few sniper shots in a row, Chris talks about not exactly desiring that name.
The name “legend” comes with the moments that haunt him and those men that he lost because of decisions he made. But Eastwood is never interested into diving into the psyche of Chris, instead he pushes past these moments and moves forward to the next home-brewed American moment where Chris makes witty comments and Taya smiles.
We don’t need another scene of Americans fighting off an insurgent because we have seen Jarhead or The Hurt Locker and those are done better. We don’t need to see American infiltrating an enemy camp because we have seen Zero Dark Thirty and it was done better. American Sniper thinks that it can reach the level of these other films, but it just isn’t there. But the sad thing is that it could be if it refocused the story on the stuff that matters and the life the Chris leads outside of the war and how this mirrors how maybe the enemy sniper lives his, but on a different side of the world.
American Sniper is never bad, but it is incredibly forgettable. Eastwood’s poor direction hurts the overall film and no matter how hard Bradley Cooper tries, it never turns into anything more than just another war movie. It is sad because Kyle was clearly a good man, but as the patriotism begins to sink through the movie, I tended to wonder if the man behind it would’ve approved of yet another person yelling “legend” at him.