It's rare that Clint Eastwood comes out with two movies in one year, but in 2014, almost the impossible happened. During the summer we saw the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Jersey Boys come to the big screen, and for Christmas, we'll see American Sniper come to movie theaters across the country. The film adaptation of Chris Kyle's autobiography of the same name sees Bradley Cooper playing Kyle, a Navy SEAL that was considered, "Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History." While the film feels heavy with atmosphere and tone, American Sniper also feels as if it could have been a more powerful film.
I am, by no means, anti-Clint Eastwood, but it just appears that his films in the latter portion of his career lack a certain bite and oomph from his past work. American Sniper follows Chris Kyle joining the military, only to find himself in the wake of 9/11 being sent off to Iraq. The movie moves from his home life back in the States and his life as a sniper overseas in the Middle East. From moment to moment, we see Kyle get more invested in his life in the military rather than with his family back home, despite having children and a loving wife.
Sienna Miller plays Kyle's wife Taya Renae and only seems to represent the other side of the Navy SEAL's life. While I really don't have a problem with Miller or Cooper in the movie, I do find it problematic that Clint Eastwood doesn't add as much weight to Kyle's family life, as he does with his military life. In fact, the most interesting parts of American Sniper are the ones on the home front, which are, sadly, glossed over for more action, action, action.
The urban battle scenes in American Sniper are very well made, but without any context. We're living in a post-Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty world. If you're going to tackle similar subject matter, you have to up your game to Katherine Bigelow's work, otherwise it just feels like something is missing. While Clint Eastwood does have the directing chops to make a better Iraq War film, it could've been an opportunity to really examine Chris Kyle's Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which informs one aspect of the film to another. However, Kyle's PTSD is glossed over for clean storytelling and an uplifting patriotic message of a soldier's duty to his country. How disappointing, considering that The Hurt Locker does it better in just one scene featuring Jeremy Renner trying to buy breakfast cereal in a grocery store.
While the film does feature some morally tough questions about war, it seems that American Sniper doesn't live up to its potential with its all-star cast and director. It never feels as deep and weighty as it should, but would rather pull on your heartstrings and not your intellect. American Sniper seems as if it wants to deify Chris Kyle, rather than depict how he struggled with PTSD and tragically died as an American hero.