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Stop me if you've heard this before: you see a trailer, maybe it was only one scene, and it built up to such a crescendo of emotion, suspense, whatever, that you were immediately hooked into the material and wanted to see it? Cool, right? Then you will either be thrilled or disappointed to know that American Sniper falls into that same category, for a variety of reasons.
Based on the biography of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and directed by Clint Eastwood (J. Edgar), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) plays Kyle, beginning from his teenaged/early 20s onward. We see Kyle grow up, start a family with his wife Taya (Sienna Miller, Foxcatcher). We see him try to balance family with his numerous tours of duty in Iraq, along with his confirmed sniper kills of dozens of Iraqis, including some women and children, with 160 to his record, before his untimely murder stateside while helping a fellow Iraq war veteran.
There are a lot of things which plague American Sniper, though above all seems to be an apathy to the source material by the director. Eastwood tells Kyle's story in a straightforward manner which is fine, but the problem is it seems as if Eastwood simply read from the source material without providing any character development to his two leads. There are brief moments where the obliviousness of Kyle pays off, occasional observational moments where people he knows and relates to see the evils of war, physical or psychological. But when it comes to the main characters, it is done strictly with painting by numbers, lacking any sort of nuance that Eastwood might have wanted to impart. In sequences when Kyle is officially home, he reacts to things using PTSD suspicions that Zac Efron did in a Nicholas Sparks movie. It would be comical if it wasn't so damned pathetic. And as far as the last pre-credit shots of the movie? Just as strange and lack of credibility.
Also just as bad was the introduced, manufactured conflict in the film designed to get in Kyle's way. The first is a character presumably modeled after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the second is a mirror image of Kyle's character, a mysterious sniper from Iraq who qualified for the Olympics. The movie treats the former like an obligatory hurdle and even mocks the latter, which stretches the movie and gives it problems in pacing. For all of Eastwood's acumen with war movies, the ham handedness on virtually all of the components of the story in the second and third acts is startling.
I appreciate that American Sniper was so popular in theaters, and that people wanted to wrap their arms around the subject, and laud tons of narrative over the hundreds of millions that it made. Personally, I thought that what comprised the backlash, those who labeled Kyle a mass murderer either online or strangely on billboards, were a tad hyperbolic in their opposition to it. Yet in terms of the debate whether American Sniper should have been seen by a whole lot of people or those who objected to the film, my response to both sides is similar:
Watch the film, and you will release that it is not what you have built up all the expectations for. And considering the Director, his background, and the source material, that's not only disappointing, but the right place for your anger.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Warner gives an AVC encode to this 2.40:1 widescreen Blu-ray and it looks good, awful similar to how I recall seeing it in theaters. The film appears to have been color corrected but everything looks reasonably sharp. This correction seems to have pushed whites a little to match the "Iraqi" exterior but is reproduced accurately and without complaint. Excellent work from Warner on the transfer.
The Dolby Atmos 7.1 surround track brings the goods in a big way. You feel the chopper blades in the low end as they fly overhead, firefights are all immersive and sound as clear as can be, with effective channel panning and directional effects. Quieter moments such as the Kyles in a doctors' office (or Chris at the VA hospital) are reproduced accurately and balanced. Overall, the soundtrack is dynamic, powerful, possibly the best sounding Eastwood film out there. He (along with Joseph DeBeasi) develop a understated and powerful score, sounding metal, industrial, in the vein of the Vietnam sequences in Full Metal Jacket. Excellent stuff.
The making of piece on the film (28:35) is good, as it shows everyone's thoughts on Kyle and on the movie, though is it frequently interspersed with critic pull quotes which are really not necessary. The cast and crew recall how they came to the film and Cooper recounts his approach to playing Kyle. It's a good piece. "One Soldier's Story" (31:04) is a little more touted in the packaging, but honestly does not do much more than the making of, unless you drop the quotes and pick up a narrator. A standard definition disc and a digital copy are available for consumption.
American Sniper is simply not that good of a movie. It is not that good of a war movie, and hell, it's not even that good of a Clint Eastwood-directed war movie. Looking at it within a vacuum of its own merits, it is easy to see just how disappointing it is. Technically, it is a stunner, and the audio track is reference quality. The extras are somewhat paint by numbers. Honestly, I think just renting it probably is a good summation of whatever merits it has.