Movie Review: American Sniper

There are very few types of people I actually respect in the world. One of them includes soldiers that have fought in war(s). They have done and seen things ordinary scrubs like me will never experience or understand. The fact most of them have a body count to their name warrants respect. I am in awe that they can keep on living, despite having taken another life. But with respect comes a sense of perspective and I am not dumb enough to assume you can come back from war with your sanity intact.

I will never be an expert, no matter how much I learn, but I believe I have enough of an understanding to know what it is like to have PTSD. My friend in the Army, whom I am very close to, deals with a pain that can only be sated within the environment war creates. Ask anyone that has seen combat and they will tell you what they want most is to go back.

When you are over there, your senses and reflexes have to be on high alert, at all hours of the day, for an entire year. If you slip up, people get killed. But when you come home, do you think it is easy to turn off that routine? Is there any use for that skill set in a place of peace? How would you feel knowing everything you have been taught has been rendered useless by moving to an environment that has become unfamiliar?

Those are situations Veterans deal with when they come home. And when they cannot return to a sense of normality or the system deems them unfit for continued service, they lose their minds, and their PTSD gets worse. There are stories about soldiers choking their partners in bed, sleep walking in a manner similar to clearing a house, and constant flashbacks. Without help, Veterans turn to suicide, drugs, or gangs in some cases because they have been abandoned. I do not understand how this is still a problem in our country, even after the crisis that befell millions of young men after the Vietnam War and those after.

I wanted to see Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper because it seemed to highlight this ignored issue. It takes the late, real-life badass Chris Kyle, a SEAL sniper with 255 kills to his name, and examines the psychological affects of his service after coming home from Iraq. There are plenty of films that have done the same thing, but I thought it was interesting how the concept was framed around someone like Kyle. So was it a respectable depiction of what Veterans go through, or did it fall short?

Sniper was indeed respectful and sold home what happens to soldiers when the war is over. However, there are glaring issues in some aspects that I must call to attention. The parts in which the movie failed are insignificant when considering the theme, but they failed in such a way that cannot be ignored.

As mentioned beforehand, the story is about Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, starting from his childhood, to his death in February of 2013. It follows his tours in Iraq during the battles of Fallujah and Ramadi. Between each tour we see his life at home with his wife Taya, played by Sienna Miller, and the affect Kyle’s job has on not only himself, but her as well.

Right from the start it is clear that Bradley Cooper is what makes this movie. I was one of those people who believed he had no range as an actor, but after Sniper, I have been proven wrong. You believe the character with the way he talks, carries himself, and how he looks. The transformation that Cooper went through is hard to imagine. It is as if he traded bodies with Kyle and put on a thick Texas accent. At the same time, we feel the pain and anxiety he goes through between tours. It is on Cooper’s face, how he answers questions, and how he moves in a scene. If he does not get an award for this role, then I do not what to believe anymore.

Cooper is the reason this movie is good, much like how Heath Ledger made The Dark Knight so famous, but you cannot see American Sniper without the bad.

First of all, the film is very, very, VERY cheap. It is most clear in the effects, which are on par with that of Taken 3. I get feeling there was a lot the production wanted on screen, but they could not afford 75% of it. Instead of cutting what could not be filmed and changing things up to make something clever, they cut corners and used the cheapest effects to get what they wanted. Next to the theme, the effects are not important, but they are prominent enough to warrant mention.

Another issue I find is how the story was told. Clint Eastwood, for lack of a better word, is very direct in how he tells a story. He gives you the facts, unbiased and unabridged, no matter what. It is as if Ron Swanson was tasked with helming a feature, but instead filmed himself talking directly to camera about a true story.

In Sniper, we see each of Kyle’s tours as they happened, in a way not unlike a sequence. I know that sounds like your typical story structure, but it lacks the emotion that you need for film to work. There is an obvious escalation in Kyle’s anxiety and you can see it on screen, but the story is structured in such a way that it does not feel like a natural progression. Something happens that is important to Kyle’s state, but then another thing happens, then another, and finally we come back to something important about his psyche.

I get the feeling the film was edited in such a way to accommodate the facts about what he did in Iraq, destroying any sense of a linear growth that might have already existed. Imagine a bar graph where every other bar is taller than the ones between them. The ideal shape of a story should be a rising curve in escalation. However, Sniper is based on a book about a real person and real events, so any story conventions it violates means nothing if what happened on film happened in real life.

That being said, there are a few things I find hard to believe. There is a villain character called “The Butcher” who tortures children with a drill, and keeps body parts in a walk-in freezer. A lot happens in war, but you cannot convince me a guy like that actually existed. There is, however, a more believable main villain based on a sniper that filmed soldiers before he shot them. I know he is real because he posted his work online.

There is another problem that includes the wife character. I will not get too in depth because this is a very subjective issue, but all she does is whine, mop, and complain about Kyle going over seas. Not all women are the same, but when my Dad had to go wherever the Air Force sent him, my Mom did not say anything because there was a support system of other spouses going through the same thing. With the character of Taya, it is like she does not even bother helping herself when she is alone. There should be a Spouses Club, counseling courtesy of the free health care, and more than enough benefits to support herself and her family. But no, all the bitch wants to do is whine like a wounded lamb until her more competent husband comes home.

All in all, American Sniper is just a good movie. It is not terrible or boring, but it is also not that great when you take into account the failure of structure. I say see it for the theme of PTSD and for Bradley Cooper’s performance. But if my words have swayed you otherwise, then I recommend the film The Hurt Locker, by Kathryn Bigelow, or Apocalypse Now, by Francis Ford Coppola, two movies that have a better handle on the same theme.

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