Sympathetic but simplistic true-life drama featuring a formidable Bradley Cooper
As a Republican Party stalwart, Clint Eastwood has never been shy of addressing the role of the military. From the gung-ho Heartbreak Ridge to his more thoughtful Flags of Our Fathers / Letters from Iwo Jima double-header, Eastwood’s frontline sojourns are consistent in their kinship with the common soldier. He’s the ideal director for this true-life drama based on the autobiography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, played with authority by Bradley Cooper.
An arresting opening depicts two of Kyle’s 160 kills as a sniper in Iraq. From a rooftop, Kyle draws his sights on a woman and child and, in the absence of clear instructions, shoots first when a deadly weapon is produced. It’s the first of many difficult situations, each navigated by Kyle with cold proficiency, gaining him the nickname 'Legend'. Back home in the US, his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and family present a different challenge; as the emotional toll of his work increases, Kyle finds himself withdrawing from domestic life under the weight of painful self-absorption.
American Hustle revealed Cooper as having far more to offer than his role as the handsome face of The Hangover series suggested, and his bulked–up, baleful presence squares strongly with the admirable verisimilitude that the 84-year-old Eastwood brings to the combat scenes. But, where the similarly themed The Hurt Locker dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder in a telling single scene, American Sniper unravels when Kyle heads home, with Miller coming up short in an underwritten, repetitive role. It's a vivid but simplistic picture of a man who dealt with life-or-death issues with shocking regularity, although Eastwood’s infectious sympathy for Kyle and ease with the actors and action ultimately triumphs over the film’s lack of engagement with either marital or wider political issues.
General release from Fri 16 Jan.