The annual prestige film suffixed with the word ‘American’ (surely they’ll run out of nouns eventually) isn’t so much a missed shot as it doesn’t seem to be aiming for anything in the first place. Clint Eastwood has made a series of solid movies in the last few years (Invictus, J Edgar, Jersey Boys), none of which are likely to really stand out in his canon but by no means bad films. American Sniper might just be that misfire.
Based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL and proclaimed the most lethal sniper in US military history, Bradley Cooper stars as the marksman whose traumatic long tours of Iraq put a strain on his family life and eventually his mental health. From the film there is very little sense that Kyle is such a spectacular sniper apart from lines imbedded in dialogue telling us so, which is the first sign that this film doesn’t quite work. American Sniper adds nothing to the debate on Iraq nor the war on terror, using Iraqis as window dressing and US soldiers as not much more. With the exception of a couple horrific acts of violence against children which are like few things seen before, the conflict does not have the passionate intensity, nor the immense camaraderie or sense of exhaustation to make it feel more than superficial. An important revenge plot against an
Iraqi sniper is unsatisfying, feeling more like reaching the next level on a video game than an angry band of brothers.
Despite not being given a huge amount to work with, Sienna Miller is probably the film’s greatest asset as Bradley Cooper’s distressed military wife back home. There’s just little potency about American Sniper, toppled with an abrupt and thoroughly unsatisfying ending, a decision which underlines the film’s lack of centre, either emotionally or politically. American Sniper was not the brash, flag-waving piece I first feared, but that might have been better than this, as at least it would have stood somewhere. This just floats around the edges.
Review by David Rank
American Sniper is out on 16th January in the UK and US. Running time 132 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).