“American Sniper” makes you leave the theater in a state of semi-shock trying to absorb/rationalize everything you have seen. If nothing else, “American Sniper” elicits an emotional response from the viewer like few other films can. This ability to force empathy doesn’t come from the script’s narrative strengths, but instead rests solely on the shoulders of star Bradley Cooper (“Guardians of the Galaxy”). While the film is faulted, Cooper’s performance is unquestionably award-worthy.
In an industry oversaturated with films depicting soldiers at war, a well told, modern, Middle Eastern war movie still feels original and fresh. The War on Terror, while initially dramatic in its effects on American life, has faded to the background of our culture. The difference in the cultural and daily impact of war on our nation now, compared to the past wars, is drastic.
This change in perception of war is what adds to the dramatic nature and emotional impact “American Sniper” has on the viewer. While the war in the Middle East doesn’t bleed over into American culture the same way wars of the past have, “American Sniper” brings the horrors of war to the viewer by giving them a new cinematic approach in understanding what has been happening. Ultimately, Clint Eastwood is attempting to make “American Sniper” a tribute and a “thank you” to the soldiers overseas by acknowledging the mental and physical trials they have been enduring.
Cooper is extraordinary. His performance carries the otherwise simplistic narrative and is the singular reason this movie is great rather than just good. Doing what he does best, Cooper begins young, energetic and charismatic. This aura follows the character into his first tour of duty when the soldier is finally tested. By quickly and successfully winning over the audience early on, the film is then able to show the character’s descent into darkness without isolating Cooper. The audience is sympathetic toward the character throughout the entire movie and is actively rooting for the character even at his lowest moments.
This is less impressive though because the audience is never really tested. Cooper’s character finds his fair share of struggles handling PTSD and adjusting to civilian life, but his actions never push the audience away. It’s easy to feel bad for Cooper because we see him struggle to connect with his family, and watch him panic in everyday life, but all of this build up is for nothing. However with Cooper’s ability to portray paranoia, fear and panic leads to a compelling character that is easy to support and feel empathetic toward.
Everything surrounding Cooper is immersive though unremarkable. The secondary characters, setting and action all do their part without ever standing out. Ultimately, it’s this fear to explore murky waters that holds back Eastwood’s film. Almost all Middle Eastern characters in this movie are shown as terrorists, helping the terrorists or as civilian bombers. The only exception is a family that is killed off by The Butcher, the primary antagonist, early on in the film. As a result, there’s a clear divide in good against evil and the audience isn’t phased or alarmed when it’s said that Cooper has killed over 150 people. The audience feels that each kill was justified because the movie never shows good, innocent people, only murderers and enemies.
The setting and action are noteworthy only because they never take the viewer out of the movie. The Middle Eastern setting is fully developed, though it’s something that doesn’t impress the viewer. The final action set piece stands out because of a large incoming sandstorm; the choice to cover the action and character in the chaos of the storm was a risky move, but it pays off. The viewer finds themselves confused and wondering what’s happening, the exact emotion Eastwood wanted to achieve. What the movie does very well rests in Cooper’s emotional responses to his actions in combat. Watching Cooper filled with regret, panic gets the viewer on the edge of their seat and immersed in the firefights, something that wouldn’t have been achieved without his caliber of acting.
“American Sniper” is a great movie that is just too afraid to be risky. The movie serves as a glimpse into the evils of war that our troops are fighting, both away and at home. In this regard the movie becomes easily likable and elicits an emotional response from the audience. The viewer is never questioned or tested, making them supportive and sympathetic to Chris Kyle throughout his life. Cooper does an extraordinary job both in showcasing his charisma and internal suffering. Ultimately, the movie gives the viewer a new sense of appreciation for the work that our soldiers are doing by making the war a simplistic good vs. evil conflict and showcasing the mental and physical scars our soldiers are suffering. “American Sniper” is definitely a movie worth seeing even if it hamstrings its own potential to be greater.