American Sniper is a well-made movie, but lacks depth in the points it’s trying to make. While there are several thrilling sequences, the movie on the whole feels a little bit empty. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the film, but for a film that seems to be dealing with the weighty issues of war, veterans, and PTSD, I sort of wanted it to examine them more.
Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is taught as a young boy to protect the weak. His father encourages him to intercede (violently) when his younger brother or other defenseless kids are picked on at school. Kyle takes this to heart, and after leading an aimless life as a cowboy, decides to join the Navy SEALs. He quickly adapts himself to the military lifestyle, becoming an expert sniper. After 9/11, he is deployed in Iraq. His marriage to Taya (Sienna Miller) is threatened by his four tours, and the PTSD that comes with them.
American Sniper has several intense actions scenes, as one can imagine in a war movie. Many times, action just puts me to sleep, but here the action was very involving, mostly because the film gives you a clear understanding of the stakes involved. Kyle has a very black and white outlook on the war and life in general; his whole character is summed up pretty neatly in wanting to protect people using any means necessary. One can easily get into this way of thinking for much of the film, as it seems clear who the bad guys are when they are threatening a kid with a drill, for example. Debates over whether or not the war was like this aside, it makes for some very intense action scenes, and taps into the main character’s mindset.
The most frustrating part of the film is not the war scenes, those are generally pretty well done. The frustrating half of the movie is when Kyle is back home with his wife. His wife confronts him about the difficulties of living alone without him, along with their two growing children. Sienna Miller turns in a very compelling performance, but like Kyle, her character is a bit one-note. I wish the script had fleshed her out a bit more, because it seems like her only purpose is to confront Kyle about the things he’s done. I’m not sure why it works to have Kyle have basically only one character trait and why it doesn’t work with his wife, but that’s how I felt watching these scenes. The topics in these scenes, Kyle’s possible PTSD, is the same. His wife keeps telling him something’s wrong and he denies it. That’s about it.
The film is in general very well shot. There’s not a lot of flashy stuff going on here, and even though everything is presented very straightforwardly, it works. This is especially true of the action scenes. The film is mostly done in muted colors, mainly this dusty brownish-green color of the soldiers’ uniforms and the desert. It’s a wonderful looking film.
American Sniper is a movie I moderately enjoyed. Both Cooper and Miller turn in some great performances, and the film is shot and edited very tightly which I appreciated. However, I wish there had just been a little more depth to it. This isn’t a movie I have giant problems with, I just think it could have examined its issues a bit more and it would have been vastly improved. It has the excitement and the visuals, I just wish it had the profundity to match.
“You can walk down any hall in this hospital. Looks like plenty soldiers need saving.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
For Further Reading: