This review does not aim to insult the real Chris Kyle. Also, in my defense, I don’t hate Clint Eastwood as a director. I loved Million Dollar Baby. Clint is an American film icon, and on that level, and rightly so, a national treasure.
American Sniper is somewhat unsatisfying and somewhat brilliant. I have never met Chris Kyle. I have never read his book. I don’t feel that this movie serves Chris Kyle. So, I will not think of the real Chris Kyle as the way the director, Clint Eastwood, and writer, Jason Hall, portray him in this movie (I will never trust Hollywood to give an accurate representation of history, or biography).
I’m not sure if it’s Clint Eastwood being unable to handle more than one concept at a time, or if the writer Jason Hall deliberately wanted to paint Kyle as a person that accidently developed a personality. The film on the whole is a softball take that does it’s best to show only one dimension of Chris Kyle.
Eastwood & Hall avoid any and all hints of controversy in regards to:
- War in general
- The specific conflicts in which Kyle served
- Kyle himself
It’s as if Clint Eastwood said to his chair:
Let’s make a movie that will make people feel good about the colossal mistake it was for us to enter the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – Let’s make it about that popular guy…what’s his name? Oh yeah, Chris Kyle.
Eastwood handles this movie like an old lady would drive an oversized semi-truck on a freeway at rush hour…barely able to see over the steering wheel, aware but oblivious to the traffic all around, can’t check the mirrors for fear of careening off the road and completely unable to change lanes at any time – he’s just praying that he gets to his destination: stock footage of Chris Kyles funeral, one of the only honest things Eastwood is able to provide.
Here’s how I think the production meetings happened:
Hall: So, Chris Kyle served 4 tours in the Middle East. He had a wife and two kids. These are incredibly tough choices to make. What approach do you think we should take to show the raw emotions that this script would require?
Eastwood: No no no. That’s too much, ooo, I know let’s invent an opposite evil sniper that goes everywhere Kyle goes at the same time, but he’s evil. Like evil Spock. We can even give him a goatee, like evil Spock.
Hall: And then Chris spends all his time in the movie wanting revenge on this character – that works for multiple factions…moving to a new faction at precisely the same time Kyle moves?
Eastwood: Mustafa is my Pale Orc.
And then there’s Bradley Cooper. Who is given a script of utter shit to work with, and he’s absolutely amazing. Eastwoods take on war is entirely visual relying heavily on the underlying currents of war to be filled in by Cooper’s performance . Bradley Cooper turns in an understated performance, at moments like Robert Forrester in Jackie Brown, with PTSD bubbling under the surface ready to explode at any second. He takes hackneyed moments of revenge cliche and the accidental personality Hall wrote, and turns them into real moments of honest human experience.
This movie fails the Bechdal test. Which is a shame, because Sienna Miller is great, but terribly under utilized. Both lead actors give performances that fill in the gaping holes that the lost production company can’t even fathom. Cooper and Miller save the movie, and make it worth watching.
Throne of The Pale Orc.