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American Sniper [2014] is the very appropriately-named biopic that producer-director Clint Eastwood based off of the life (and book) of the deadliest marksman in the history of the United States military. Bradley Cooper takes us through the life of the passionately blood-soaked Chris Kyle as he struggles to balance his duties to his country and family. The movie is saturated with American military culture, but through Cooper’s performance and Eastwood’s precise perspective, the world becomes familiar to any viewer. Very, very familiar.

America needs freedom… but Bradley Cooper doesn’t need acting school. Screenwriter Jason Hall’s dramatization of Kyle is relatable but not complex: it’s Cooper’s performance that does much of the heavy lifting, infusing his adequate dialogue with a subtlety and heft that carries the film. He’s scary but reasonable; angry but clear-headed. His beard costars as a kind of silent expositor, helping the audience understand just how Kyle managed the mind-blowing feats that he accomplished in Iraq. Sienna Miller seems capable of pulling her own weight, but as Kyle’s wife Taya, she’s mostly relegated to crying.

…he’s a much better actor than that plastic baby doll… Although there’s a decided lack of depth, Kyle’s inner turmoil keeps things interesting, and Cooper’s paradoxical invested detachment is fascinating to watch. Eastwood did not restrain the moral compromises that Kyle had to make, but his ultimate heroism is never called into question… more thanks to Kyle’s father than to any intentional simplicity on the part of the filmmakers. In any case, his decisions, while difficult and harshly gruesome, always make ultimate sense in the context of the scene. It’s just barely short of captivating.

Also, the stories about the fake baby are all true. Even the exaggerated ones.

How can Clint Eastwood keep making movies? The action is shot with a precision and clarity that most directors half his age would find to be hard work. Eastwood and editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach ratchet up tension with expertly arranged slices of perspective and perfectly delivered visual and spatial information. But even Eastwood couldn’t crack the secret of that damn baby doll. They even waggled its arms in one shot to make it seem… alive?

Basic but dependable freedom storytelling. Controversy swirls around the stance the film takes on war, but ultimately, that’s up to the viewer. Eastwood doesn’t seem interested in the international conflict: he’s more interested in Kyle’s, or at least, the fictionalization that we get here. But the conflict never goes deeper than “my country needs me.” Neither does the film’s structure.

Chris Kyle loved America. The rest is just decoration.
American Sniper
3.5Overall Score
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