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Awards season reviews: American Sniper

I wasn’t excited about this film until I saw the trailer, after that I fell onto the Chris Kyle American Sniper bandwagon and I couldn’t wait to see the film.

Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the story of Chris Kyle, his true story is the basis for American Sniper. Let me give you an insight; Chris Kyle was a United Sates Navy SEAL and decorated as the most lethal sniper in American history. He had a record of nearly 200 confirmed kills over his four tours in the Iraq War. Since his honorable discharge in 2009, Kyle returned home to his wife and children in Texas, wrote a bestselling autobiography entitled American Sniper and helped other veterans who suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His death came in the most shocking and unfortunate fashion at the hands of a 25 year old PTSD suffering Veteran who shot him and his friend on a shooting range in 2013.

I’ve really tried to give an unbiased review of this film, despite the subject matter being something I could have been very dramatic and harsh about.  So here goes.

So like I said, the trailer won me over. I was on team American Sniper, team Chris Kyle and I stayed right there until about 30 minutes into the film, when I started to notice unlikeable movie tactics strategically used by Clint Eastwood. The film opens with the same scene as the trailer. Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is on a roof, over looking his team slowly patrolling a village war zone. Kyle notices a woman carrying, what appears to be, an RPG and hand it over to a child. The camera cuts back and forth to Kyle sweating, trying to handle this difficult situation. Are the intentions of the woman and child to murder his team? If they are and he takes them out he’s a hero, if he kills the kid for no reason he’s the devil, a point his team mate on the roof so kindly points out to him, and us. We are right there with him, what would we do? He’s the hero, surely. But before you see the murder of a child, the film cuts to Kyle’s life before the war. He’s the perfect brother, saving his younger sibling from a beating, he’s an all American adolescent desiring to be a cowboy and later in life he has the ability to be the only nice Marine in a bar full of rowdy soldiers. He’s a likable guy and Eastwood is not ashamed to overtly portray him as such. After all this, we are taken back to the moment in which he’s contemplating killing a child, but it’s easier because we know this guy is good. He pulls the trigger and takes out the child as he runs toward Kyle’s team mates with a bomb. The mother, screaming with what you assume is grief, runs toward the child, grabs the bomb and attempts to finish the mission, running towards the SEAL team. So Kyle has no choice but to take out this savage mother who cares more for killing Americans than her own child. So a pattern emerges; all people who aren’t American are the enemy, don’t care for family or children and have one desire: to kill Americans. I was on the look out for a portrayal of an Iraqi who wasn’t the enemy; I got nothing.

Whilst the story of war veterans and their heroic acts do not go unappreciated, war stories rarely interest me, especially when it’s the glorification of American soldiers without a fair portrayal of any other country. This all got worse when I did some research into Kyle. He, according to his biography and other articles I read online, wasn’t the humble, introverted, likeable guy he’s depicted as. Some of the questionable things I read included constantly referring to the people he killed as ‘savages’, he seemed to have no remorse toward the hundreds of people (women and children) he killed, he loved George Bush and allegedly got into a bar fight after hearing someone disrespect him, this is especially annoying when there is NO mention of Bush-loving in the film. And finally, I read he apparently boasted about his kills and only wished he’d killed more. So this research made me dislike this film a little more, mainly for what it represented, but I have to say something about the performances.

Bradley Cooper is fantastic in this film. He’s given a role to play and he plays it perfectly. He undergoes an almost unrecognisable transformation, accent and all and brings this character, albeit an alternate version to the real person, to a likeable and real place. He’s the face of the American solider, facing hard decisions in the most heroic fashion. He is THE American hero and the film revolves around him. I’m just disappointed in Eastwood for crumbling under pressure in his attempt to portray what’s real and replacing it with what’s wanted. This was supposed to be a biopic, I assumed, but it lacked in accuracy, my ultimate pet peeve for any film based on a true story and for that, I don’t think it deserves to win best picture, nor best adapted screenplay. The editing is effective and builds great tension so that would be a reasonable win, as would best lead for Bradley Cooper, but compared to the other films running, it’s going to struggle and I’ll be disappointed to see it win over the others I’ve watched.

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