Wednesday, January 21, 2015

American Sniper Review: No Politics here!

I finally went to see American Sniper.  I would probably have seen it sooner or not at all if it were not for my one day a week (at least it was supposed to be one day a week) job at a local movie theater.  It really is a lack-luster job with terrible pay but the benefit of seeing movies for free is what attracted me.  I did the math a while back and I was spending over $60 a month on films when good ones actually came out.  So, I went and saw it.  It was pretty much exactly what I thought it would be.  I did have a pressing question in my mind though, how would they address Chris Kyle's tragic murder.  I  thought that the filmmakers (Clint Eastwood and company) might not even go there, but they did and it was very respectable.


As far as the movie is concerned, they did a good job.  It is a mix of war and the emotional toll that it takes upon anyone that is involved in the implementation of it.  War is terrible, we all must agree on that.  Anyone that believes otherwise has a screw loose.  The military aspect of it was mostly true to life and I must say, they put the most horrific things in the movie.  Since it s pretty hard to spoil the movie for anyone that has an internet connection and googles the life of Chris Kyle I will forgo the niceties and not worry about spoilers other than not revealing the plot itself.  That is about the only thing that may keep you subtly guessing about this movie.

Chris Kyle
For those of you who haven't heard the account, here is a little recap:  Chris Kyle was a rodeo man who decided to join the military after watching the news about terrorist attacks on US forces and innocent people overseas.  He was somewhat of a simple man, not to be confused with a simpleton, they are distinctly two different things.  Chris joined the U.S. Navy and graduated BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL) training then went on to specialize as an elite sniper.  After September 11th 2001 he was deployed to Iraq and fought in the toughest campaigns, serving four tours.  Chris Kyle went on to become the U.S. Navy's deadliest sniper.  After his deployment ended, mostly by his own choice according to the movie, Chris Kyle learned to deal with his own demons by helping out his fellow soldiers fight theirs as well.  From all accounts it comforted him and allowed him to move on with his life.  Sadly, another Veteran was unable to deal with the emotions and tragedy of his own life and murdered Chris Kyle when Chris took him to a shooting range.  

Alright, now that everyone is up to speed on the story, here is my review of the movie itself.  This is not a commentary on Chris Kyle, the U.S. Military or anything political.  I am solely interested in the movie's technical aspects, actors and screenplay.  Just so you know.  No hard feelings to those who love the movie and definitely No politics here.

I would liked to have seen some more care taken with the artistic beauty of the film.  The effects were underwhelming at times.  The helicopters that flew through the air were right about 75% of the time but I did see some scenes where the effects were revealed.  Believe it or not, the process of creating realistic looking 3d models is not as refined as one might think.  In an action movie the film maker can cover up effects that aren't quite right with some trickery in post.  You can oversaturate, use a mask or manipulate the gamma settings to hide flaws in animated objects easily when the entire film is somewhat based off of fantasy.  The real trick is to do it when you are looking for reality.  The sun is a tricky thing and while we have figured out most of it, the fine details are still very difficult to master.  All in all I was't distracted by the effects and most moviegoers will not notice.  So, that's actually a win in my book.  Not a home run, but a win.

The acting is another story.  Bradley Cooper did an amazing job.  I mean really amazing.  Growing up in the south I have met and I am friends with rodeo men.  They have a demeanor about them, something that is found only in the culture.  Bradley nailed it.  For those of you that have seen the movie, I would not suggest just walking up to the cats, Chris Kyle is somewhat more friendly than most, you have been warned.  Bradley Cooper portrayed Chic Kyle in such a believable way, it makes me wonder if Bradley knows some of these men.  Well, I guess he did, he met Chis Kyle and spoke to the man himself.  If any of you wonder why a war movie about a sniper who has killed more enemy combatants than any one else in a war that has been so controversial over the years has spurred so many award nominations, I have two words for you; Bradley Cooper.  I never found myself seeing through this mans acting.  To be honest, its about 50/50 when it comes to my ability to see when an actor is "acting".  So many actors seem like the same character over and over again, Micheal Keaton for example, because it is the person behind the mask that we are interested in.  Bradley Cooper's performance in this film was not one of these performances.  He stepped outside himself and portrayed the man and at no time did I feel that Bradley Cooper came out in the performance, Only Chris Kyle.  In fact, this performance has driven me to proclaim that Bradley Cooper is one of the greatest major actors alive.   I would have no problem casting him in just about anything.


There is one thing that bothered me though is it's screenplay.  The screenplay lacks depth and substance for the supporting characters.  Chris's wife Taya Kyle (Sienna Miller) finds Kyle in a bar, becomes his wife and has children.  Thats about all I know about the character, there really wasn't anything other than that.  Ok, she tells him how she wants him to come home and that she "wants her husband back": as his personality has been muted by war in order to deal with the overwhelming grief that he feels (which is lightly portrayed in the film) for killing.  The other supporting characters that he served with felt like day players or even throw away characters.  I know this is not what the screen-writers intended but that's the way it is.  I believe we were supposed to feel the grief Chris experienced when he lost a man but I didn't.  Ok, I did because they represent actual men with families but if it were a fictional story, I would have felt very little for them.  In fact, the only feels I had when we lost a character Chris Kyle served with came from the knowledge that they are real people and they really died.  It wasn't the actors who portrayed his team members fault I felt this way, that weight strictly falls on the screen-writer's shoulders.  If more time was spent with Taya and the other soldiers in the film, it would have been a truly heart wrenching story.

One last thing that I want to address.  it is something that I let slide and I assume everyone else did too.  It is something that everyone must have noticed.  It would surprise me if no one did.  In one scene where Chris and Taya are talking in their homes nursery a doll is used.  It is obviously a doll.  I would put money that they had a real baby for the role and the child was either sick or would not stop crying, forcing Clint Eastwood to just deal with it and move on.  It could be for other reasons with are just as palatable but it disappoints me very much with how little care they used in this scene.  Watching it unfold with he glaring baby doll drew me out of the scene 100%.  I would suppose that some audience members chuckled when they handed the doll off.  I was embarrassed  to be honest.  Wrap the doll up in a blanket or something Clint.  I would even have done that.  

All-in-all The movie was decent.  I would stop short of saying it is, in comparison to other movies of the year, an award winner, but good.  I felt the portrayal of the man himself was honest and care was taken to not soil the memory of the man and what he did.  Clint Eastwood did a good job showing what war is like and the toll it can take on even the toughest of us.  It didn't come across as anti-war tripe or NRA propaganda.  It was about a man and who he was.  I would say, for a movie that is about real life, it holds its ground and tells a good story in the most respectful way possible.