“Enter f***ing Sandman.”
American Sniper begins as a film of its environment. The training scenes are reminiscent of An Officer and a Gentleman, its night scenes feel rather Black Hawk Down, and the more graphic elements have the same unreserved nature of Hurt Locker. However, American Sniper develops into a very different modern war picture.
The most significant part of American Sniper is its portrayal of the obsessive nature of Cooper’s Chris Kyle. Kyle is unaware as he begins to lose sight of why he’s there; he may say he’s there to protect his family and his country and claim that he is questionable to God, but his need to return to active combat is burning from another fuel. Even when he’s home, and can see the effect his desire for combat is having on his wife and child, he’s still aching to go back. There’s guilt in his mind, but its repressed by other emotions. This is a very different look at modern combat compared to what had come before. Its emotional look at the mental effects combat has on those actively involved and those indirectly involved is emotional and poignant, making this film a very important one.
In this way, Cooper gets to show some range. He is mostly stoic, and most of his performance goes on behind the eyes. As his situation changes, his strained emotional state is drawn out. Cooper is certainly impressive, and worthy of his Oscar nod. However, I felt that it was Sienna Miller who stood out. Her performance is raw and her emotion is real. You cry when she cries and you feel the despair her character feels. Miller’s is a very involving performance and one I am disappointed has been overlooked this awards season.
It is this emotion that drives American Sniper but the film also follows a story of reflection. Kyle is reflected in an Assassin’s Creed-esque counterpart. A rival sniper, Mustafa, is taking out US troops, and becomes Kyle’s fixation. Mustafa plays out as a mirror image of his US opposite, in his home life, his actions and his fascination with Kyle. Though Kyle believes him to be savage and full of hate, Mustafa is not fighting for hate, he like Kyle is simply fighting with hate. Eastwood shows expertly with this reflection that both sides have the same goals, but simply different ideals and means. Neither side is good, neither bad, just opposed. This is an impressive stance for Eastwood to take, especially during the story of an American ‘hero’.
In terms of filmmaking, Eastwood chose to employ a series of deep, atmospheric thuds to frame dramatic scenes. These worked as a replacement of Kyle’s heartbeat and were striking in doing so. The quick changes of pace used also work to take you out of the emotional or tense scenes before they are become overwhelming. This also works very well as there several of these scenes, and built a longer lasting tension.
American Sniper is a powerful look at modern war. Eastwood discusses the validity of the ‘God, Country, Family’ mantra and in which order these should be held. They say first casualty of war is the truth, but Eastwood argues that it is also the lives of those involved. His film is as well-made as it’s message is striking, featuring real emotion, drama and impressive performances. There’s a lot to like in American Sniper, and it is a lot more than simply a fitting tribute to a loyal American servant.
(Though the header says December (US), American Sniper is out today, 16th Jan 15, in the UK. Go see it and support your local cinemas!)