American Sniper - Cinema Review

'Cooper consistently fails to infuse any personality into Kyle, his portrayal coming across as a robotic meat-head with whom we never truly connect'.

As Sam mentioned in his review of The Theory Of Everything, biopic filmmaking can turn up as many problems as it can successes if handled ineptly. It's a point which took hold within my mind not long after watching American Sniper, Clint Eastwood's multiple-Oscar-nominated attempt to bring to the big screen the autobiography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), best known as the most successful sniper in US military history.

Perhaps the most pivotal element to a biopic's success is its central figure having a story worth telling, something of which in Kyle's case I came away from Eastwood's film decidedly unconvinced. Whether this is the case in reality is arguably neither here nor there: Kyle's life as told through American Sniper rarely feels anything other than ordinary. Straight away Eastwood gives us very little to engage with, reducing Kyle's childhood and background as a rodeo cowboy, as well as his early relationship with and marriage to Taya (Sienna Miller), to a series of cursory plot points rather than something we should care about.

Kyle himself feels like an uncomplicated character in his understanding and beliefs about the world, doing what he does in order to protect his country and the men with whom he is serving. Whilst this is not a problem in itself, a considerably beefed up Cooper consistently fails to infuse any personality into Kyle, his portrayal coming across as a robotic meat-head with whom we never truly connect. As a result of this, the rare isolated occasions where Cooper attempts to inject some humanity into Kyle end up feeling both contrived and hammy. Cooper is an actor who has yet to genuinely convince when in dramatic roles, and his performance here unfortunately does little to change matters.

Outside of Kyle, the characters for the most part rarely venture beyond uninspired stereotypes and caricatures. The American military is populated by a series of clich├ęs: those in command are incessantly stern and humourless, their ground troops in contrast spouting (Team) Americanisms such as "That was awesome!" and "Fuck yeah!" in the midst of battle. The enemy antagonists present most of the Middle Eastern stereotypes you can think of, Eastwood failing to give any form of humanity to most, and making sure any to whom he does are quickly dispatched. The real Kyle famously referred to the enemy as "savages" without irony throughout his book (something which Cooper's character thankfully does only once in passing in the film), a viewpoint which Eastwood unfortunately takes to heart through his consistently crude portrayal of America's foes.

There are positives to be found within American Sniper: Eastwood's conflict scenes regularly prove engaging, even if they offer little that hasn't been seen done just as well or better before. A late battle during which Kyle and his team are steadily engulfed by a sandstorm is a particular highlight, delivering perhaps the film's most successful sequence. However, these moments are simply too few and far between to make Eastwood's film worthy of recommendation, let alone its half a dozen Oscar nominations - presumably acquired thanks to a surge of jingoistic sentimentalism throughout the Academy, rather than voters mistaking American Sniper for one of the year's best films.




By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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