This is it. It is both Super Bowl season and MY Super Bowl Season. It’s Oscar time! Here is everything you need to know about:
Title: American Sniper
Award Count: Six, including Best Picture and Best Actor
More often than not when I pre-cap a movie on CTBoom, I label my thoughts “Gut Reaction.” This is in reference to my initial thoughts or how I think the movie is going to play out. In regards to American Sniper, this movie is entirely “gut reaction” in the sense that your gut will react to what you’re seeing on screen from the title card to the closing credits.
American Sniper is a biopic of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, adapted from his memoir, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. As is the case with any story dealing with war, American Sniper is a difficult watch, but not for the reasons you’d immediately think when remembering other movies in the action/war genre.
On the scale of Oscar Nominated war movies, American Sniper falls somewhere between Saving Private Ryan and The Hurt Locker. Beautifully filmed and visually balanced, the movie itself looks great. The landscapes – both home and “over there” – jump off the screen; the locations in this movie are the real antagonist to Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle. No matter the setting – Texas prior to joining the military, Iraq, or at home with his family – Kyle is raging against his environment wanting desperately to make a difference in whatever place he is not.
This is the hallmark of some of director Clint Eastwood’s finest work; the idea that no matter how hard you try, you cannot escape the places you have come to fear the most. In Mystic River, the ghosts of the old neighborhood haunt Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. In Million Dollar Baby, the physical and emotional toll of a life spent fighting that Clint Eastwood has tried so desperately to avoid catches up to Hilary Swank. In American Sniper, no matter where Bradley Cooper goes he is at war. The pain he carries with him grows from scene to scene and Cooper wears it as if it were tattooed on his person. This is without question Bradley Cooper’s finest performance to date and considering the recognition he has received for American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook, that is saying something.
American Sniper is not without its flaws. The movie is an adaptation of a book written by its protagonist. As a movie, the plot is relatively formulaic, the hero saves the day in virtually every impossible scenario in which he finds himself, and the supporting characters with whom should be sympathizing are the least sympathetic characters on screen.
The movie teases a very interesting parallel story with the an enemy sniper, but fails to truly deliver. This isn’t Batman vs. The Joker in The Dark Knight; it’s Batman vs. the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. The symbolism in this movie is obvious; there is no guessing as to what Eastwood and company are trying to get across.
Now… this is all very easy for me to say. These are the blazing hot takes of a man who thankfully has never seen war. While a quick Google of “American Sniper” will clue you in on the national debate RAGING about the validity of this movie’s place in the national consciousness, the opinion I’ve decided to side with is that of Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq War veteran and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Rieckhoff recently wrote a review of the film for Variety in which he called American Sniper, “a cinematic-bullseye,” because that’s what it is… within reason.
“American Sniper” does not, however, much address the overall complexity of the larger political issues surrounding the war — or the complexity of the Iraqi side of the experience. And that’s OK. Kyle, much like many I served with, and our president himself during most of the Iraq War, held a very black-and-white view of the conflict. We were right, they were wrong. That’s how they saw things. Eastwood and Cooper have both commented extensively that they looked to classic Hollywood Westerns to inspire this film. And they succeeded. In “American Sniper,” like in Chris Kyle and George Bush’s Iraq War, American troops wore the white hats, and Iraqi fighters wore the black ones. That was their war. That was their truth.
To draw a blockbuster comparison, re-rack the frame on The First Avenger and imagine if Captain America focused on the emotional weight of being a man out of time compelled to carry the the shield because of his sense of duty and not about how cool it is to be a superhero.
What Eastwood does, arguably better than any other American director, is tell a story that anyone can enjoy, but resonates most closely with the people in league with the subject. Ask someone from Ohio what makes Mystic River authentic, and they might say “the Boston accent is better than any other ‘Boston’ movie.” Ask someone from Boston the same question, and they’ll say, “the attitude.”
The same comparison can be drawn for American Sniper. This movie is going to resonate differently with an American serviceman or woman than it would with a general movie going audience. It is the respectful detail that Cooper and Eastwood apply to American Sniper with that subset in mind that make this movie an Oscar contender. No matter where this movie hits your politics, the art of applying the intricacies and unbelievable pressures known only to a few and painting them on a canvas intended for millions to see is text book movie magic.