American Sniper — 6/10

AMERICAN SNIPER (2014, Clint Eastwood)

There’s a fine line between conflicted and confused, and I fear that much of this film steps over it. Careful not to be some crazy “oo-rah” recruitment film, it makes sure to include plenty of shell shock and brutal consequences to Kyle’s career — but also careful not to be too critical of it, Eastwood ladles on the sentiment and hero worship too. Usually I like when a film wrestles with itself, and such a struggle is definitely in line with late-period Eastwood work. But there’s something about the tone of this that doesn’t make the struggle seem necessary or even sure-footed.

It’s also paced really strangely. It’s well over two hours long, but breezes through the third act far too quickly, just when the struggle is getting interesting. Instead, it dwells too long on a manhunt but one that’s resolved pretty routinely. (Extra demerits for the slo-mo bullet sequence). As for Sienna Miller, she starts off the film with a character, but once Kyle goes off to war, every scene between them is about him being off at war. Their relationship is about nothing but their family and Kyle’s commitment to it.

On the other hand, plenty of the action scenes are fantastic, tense, and confidently filmed. Yet even with those qualities, there are bizarre continuity errors and technical flaws you normally don’t see in a Hollywood film of this pedigree. How quickly did Eastwood slap this together? Is he just getting too old? Does nobody question him anymore? But then again why would they, when he keeps coming up with isolated but terrific imagery? One great shot comes early: with a bible placed on top of a dresser next to a football and toy soldiers — a brilliant image that says everything without having to shout it; another comes late, when the camera swings around to reveal that a television isn’t even on. Cooper, for his part, is quite good if not particularly revelatory. His lack of an inner monologue becomes both a positive and a negative, much like many things about this interesting but weirdly jumbled effort.

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