Saturday, January 17, 2015

2014 Awards Circuit: American Sniper Review

2014 Awards Circuit: American Sniper Review

The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.
 
"American Sniper" the movie is many things, but one of the things it is not is Oscar worthy.
 
I have only read a few reviews of "American Sniper" before going to the packed IMAX screening I attended last night, and I wonder how many of those critics actually read the memoir of Chris Kyle, the real-life SEAL sniper Bradley Cooper brings to life in the movie. I have actually been reading Chris Kyle memoir and I was nearly finished before I walked into the theater last night. Even though I still haven't finished the book, it is quite clear that director Clint Eastwood didn't do the best job adapting the book to the movie, at least this is what I think.
 
Clint Eastwood might be a great actor, with several iconic roles to his name. He also may have had a somewhat successful career as a director. Sure, I loved his directorial films like "Million Dollar Baby," "Mystic River," "Changeling" and "Gran Torino." But his more recent efforts, like "Invictus," "J. Edgar," "Hereafter," "Trouble With The Curve," and now "American Sniper" are desperately lacking the soul, power and inspiration of his early work. This revelation makes me a little uneasy to watch "Jersey Boys," whenever I get the chance to catch-up with it. I not quite sure where the lack of effort suddenly began to take form, is Eastwood getting sloppy in his old age? Is his one movie a year schedule not enough time to put together a worthwhile movie? I don't know, but one of our most promising talents is quickly losing his grip.
 
"American Sniper" follows the life of Chris Kyle (Cooper), a cowboy turned rancher turned SEAL sniper from Texas. Kyle became the deadliest sniper in SEAL history, and while in the memoir, that number is unclear to Kyle, the most states he has over 160 kills to his record. We also get a look into Kyle's life as a father and when he met and married Taya (Sienna Miller) and how his life overseas affected his life at home. All of this cumulating to Kyle's mysterious death by a former soldier suffering from PTDS, a person Kyle spent his life after his four tours trying to help.
 
Biopic movies are hard, and I have had cruel words towards many of them since this blog started. I just don't see the reason to make a movie that flies through all the big points in a famous person's life, without creating any sort of logical structure in story, nor creating any emotional heft. Simply creating a Wikipedia page style movie doesn't do it for me, I need to reason to believe in the movie I am seeing, I need to be affected by the movie I was seeing. If a director simply goes through the motions, it feels less like a movie and more like a grade school reenactment in a social studies class. Sadly, this is the movie that Clint Eastwood made. We fly through Chris Kyle life, unable to stop to really learn a thing about him. Then by the end of the movie, instead of showing us the tragedy that put an end to Chris Kyle's life, we briefly read a title-card telling us what happened. Why? Out of respect for his family? Okay, but if Eastwood wanted to respect his family, he should have attempted to make a better movie.
 
What shocked me is how stereotypical the movie was, especially since this is based on a memoir by Kyle. Eastwood paints Kyle as a super-patriot who joins the SEALS out his moral sense of duty. When he's out in Iraq, he's the moral rock of his group, when he's at home, he's struggling to keep his family. Sound familiar? Yeah? Because that's exactly what happens in every, other movie like this. What's sad is that Eastwood leaves giant chunks of the book out the movie, things that really detail the type of person Kyle was. Sure, he had a sense of duty to his country, but in the beginning he didn't want to be in the military, and when he did join, he didn't want to be a SEAL. Chris Kyle was an interesting man, and there was a lot to him, and I think the audience never gets a hint of that from this movie. Instead of making something unique, Eastwood just made the same patriotic fare, every other director makes. (And Taya, yeah she was a much stronger woman than the movie portrays, sad.)
 
I guess its not all bad. This is actually one of the very best Bradley Cooper performances. If I didn't know his other work, I would think he was definitely from Texas and he masters the accident. It seems Cooper really focused on becoming Kyle, by his body, his voice and his mannerisms and he does good work. I think Sienna Miller does exactly what she was instructed to do, and she does a fine job. I just wish she was given a better character to play and not just another military wife cliché. The battle scenes are quite engaging, and I'll admit I perked up a little during the action. It is nice that Eastwood can still create a nice action scene, I just wish there was more of an emotional pay-off to what happened in these scenes.
 
If "American Sniper" somehow wins best picture in the upcoming months, I'll be shocked. This is as regular as regular gets, and I just don't see what all the fuss is about over this one, and its somewhat disappointing as I finish the book and see what could have been. Half of the Academy voting for the Oscar nominations hated "Inherent Vice," but thought this one deserved a Best Picture nod? What?
 
FINAL GRADE: C


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