It's about time I get my American Sniper review out, right? I saw this movie back in January on the weekend that it expanded nationwide. In fact, I believe it was the last movie I saw in theaters before I made my top 10 best movies of 2014 list because I thought that this would be a candidate for the list. The reviews were a bit mixed from critics in the weeks prior to its nationwide release, but yet so were the reviews for Lone Survivor the year previous and I loved that movie. It was the second straight year that we were getting a Navy SEAL movie and I was ready to love this one just like I did Lone Survivor. So I saw it the Thursday night on its expansion weekend and much to my chagrin, I didn't like it. Then this crazy thing happened that actually started the morning before I saw the movie. It got six Oscar nominations, including a nomination for best picture and best actor. That surprised me. But that wasn't the end of the surprises. I expected the movie to break the January opening weekend record, but I didn't expect it to demolish that record. $89.3 million? WOW! That's the second largest opening weekend ever for an R-rated movie. But it didn't stop there. It held so well that it became the highest grossing movie of 2014 as well as the second highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. People were absolutely loving this movie. Did I miss something?
I was going to write my review that weekend, like I usually do, but I decided that this is a movie that I needed to wait before I write my review. I needed to spend some more time thinking about what I saw. So I gave it time. I had discussions about the film. I read about it. I researched Chris Kyle, the movie's subject. Then I saw it again. I thought about it some more and finally last night before I decided it was time to write my review, I saw it for a third time. This time around I took a little notebook and took very detailed notes about what was happening and what I wanted to say. I actually never do that. But this was an exception because I wanted to dive a lot deeper than I usually do when I talk about a movie. Thus I labelled this as a SPOILER REVIEW. If you haven't seen this movie and don't want it spoiled, now is the time to stop reading. If you've already seen this movie or don't care about it being spoiled, then proceed. If you want the non-spoiler version, I'm sorry. That doesn't actually exist. It usually does when I do a spoiler review, but not in this case. If you decide to proceed, just remember. I'm here to review a movie. This isn't a review of Chris Kyle, the ethics of snipers, or the United States' foreign policy. This is a review of a movie and you should treat it as such. Because I know this will be long, I'm going to split this into different sections in hopes to make it more readable. So without further ado, let's dive in!
Right off the bat, I want to say that the very first scenes in this movie are very intense and very good. You've seen the trailer. If not, you should go watch it because it is a dang good trailer. That's how this movie starts. Chris Kyle is up in his sniper perch and you see a mother and a kid walking out, pulling out a grenade. The mother gives the grenade to the child and as a viewer this is really intense and emotional. Is Chris Kyle going to shoot a little kid and his mother? AHHHHHH!!!! He's watching them closely, debating whether to shoot, is told it's his call, and BANG! Gun goes off. But it's not his gun. Well it is. But it's the gun of a young Chris Kyle shooting his first deer while out hunting with his dad. Dag yo! That was a dang good opening scene. Then we get shots of him at church with his family, a fight him and his brother get into at school, and a lecture by his father. This all adds a very interesting tone to the movie that actually gives it a whole ton of promise.
Then we get to the next phase of the introduction and this is where the movie starts to go downhill. Chris Kyle is now an adult and works as a rodeo cowboy. He comes home and catches his girlfriend cheating. So he rather rudely throws the guy out followed by the girl. He was kinda of a punk in the process, but she also deserved it. This is all fine and dandy character development. But then he's sitting down watching the news and suddenly a story about the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings comes on and suddenly he is a changed man who is signing up to join the Navy SEALs. What? That happened fast. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I feel like there was probably a lot more that went into Chris Kyle's decision to join the SEALs beside him being bothered by one news story. It felt rushed, a bit choppy, and had little depth. I realize we only have two hours to tell the story of a man's life, but come on Clint Eastwood. Give Chris Kyle's decision to join the Navy SEALs a bit more depth and meaning. Don't rush it like that. But oh well, whatever. We move on.
After he joins, we get a short montage of his SEAL training. I don't know a whole lot about this training, but I've been told it's super intense. Yet all we get are a few quick shots of them getting sprayed with a hose, sitting in the body of water during a heavy tide, getting yelled at by their commanders, and going on a quick jog, and BAM they are Navy SEALs. Once again, I don't anything about this training, but I have a feeling that it's a lot more intense than that, yet they didn't want to dive into that at all. Oh well. Whatever. Then we get to the scene where Chris Kyle meets his wife. This woman is played by Sienna Miller and holy freaking cow is she terrible in this movie. Every scene with her in it made me cringe and it starts with this weird conversation in a bar that progresses in a way that I don't think any normal conversation would. This is proceeded by a montage of them dating and getting married and I thought the whole sequence was a pile of trash. I get it. He's supposed to meet a girl and get married. But come on! Make it believable! Terrible writing made worse by terrible acting by Sienna Miller. But oh well. Whatever. He's married. We move on.
Get my vibe with this beginning? It starts great, but starts to collapse due to so many "whatevers" that I have mentioned. I spend a lot of time on this beginning because for a lot of the movie it feels the same way. Rushed scenes that are poorly written. It frustrated me. I'm not going to go through the whole movie like this, but I wanted to dissect this beginning to give you a feel for why I was unimpressed for much of this movie, even after multiple viewing. Let's move on.
THE WAR SCENES
If I really wanted to bore all of you, this next section would've been entitled "Tour One." Chris Kyle did four tours in Iraq and the movie spends time on each of them while showing us scenes of him home with his wife and kids in between the tours. I took notes on each of these sections and thus I could make this the longest review in history, but I'm not. Instead this section will be me talking about all of these scenes together. I told you that this movie started out really good and then went downhill pretty quickly. Well, after we get through the terrible introduction, we shoot right back up to being really good and intense. Thus this movie is quite the roller coaster in terms of my enjoyment. At the beginning of the first tour, we go back to our scene with the mother and kid having the grenade and we finish that off by watching Chris Kyle shoot and kill both of them. Holy cow! This brings quite the emotional punch and every time Chris Kyle gets a new target that makes your insides scream every time he pulls the trigger.
The overall story of the war scenes is told over the course of his four tours of duty and it took me a couple times watching this, but I can finally conclude that this is in fact an excellent and interesting story with some crazy intense villains that the SEALs are trying to hunt down. It's very intriguing and really intense when you see the enemy sniper shooting at the SEALs or one of their main targets with his drill punishing the people who associated and talked to the SEALs. Add all four of these sequences up and this was a great war movie. Is it the best war movie? No. But it's pretty good.
Yet there is a pretty big issue that I have with these war sequences. This movie is called American Sniper and is about the deadliest sniper in U.S. history. Despite this being a really interesting and intense war movie, we don't actually dive much into Chris Kyle's sniping. The man had well over 200 kills while being officially credited with around 160, I believe. How many of these kills do we get to see? I felt it wasn't very much when I first watched the movie, so when I watched it again, I counted. The number is eight. That's it. Six of the eight come in the first tour, the last two in the final 30 minutes of the movie. We see no sniping at all by Chris Kyle during the second and third tour, making it so that there is almost an hour break in the middle of this movie where we see no Chris Kyle sniping. This is disappointing because those kills that were shown were the most intense parts of the movie and this would've been a dang good movie had we spent more time focusing on what Chris Kyle is actually famous for. Instead of showing us these kills, the movie simply tells that he is getting them. Why would you do a movie about the deadliest sniper in U.S. history and barely show anything that he is famous for? Sure, the war sequences are good, but they would've been so much better if they had integrated this story with the Chris Kyle sniping instead of almost completely ignoring the sniping. I don't want the movie to tell me he is a legend. I want it to show me why he is a legend.
THE SCENES AT HOME
Roller coaster is a word I used in the previous section. This is very much the case throughout the whole movie because in between every tour of duty is a section of him being home with his wife and each of these scenes were almost cringe-worthy for me to watch. Why? Again, Sienna Miller is at fault here. Don't get me wrong, I totally feel for Chris Kyle's wife. Here is a woman who fell in love with him, yet didn't get to spend much time with him because he was always at war. Thus she is almost raising her kids as a single mother. I'm sure that woman went through a whole lot of crazy emotions during this that got worse due to him being killed not too long after he finally got home for good. There's a lot that they could've done with these scenes that definitely would've added to the emotion of the movie. Instead it drove me crazy because Sienna Miller is just whining and complaining in the most annoying way possible. Whine. Whine. Whine. Complain. Complain. Whine. Complain. Whine. Complain. AHHHHHHHH!!!!! STOP IT! STOP HER! GET HER OUT OF THIS MOVIE! That's how I felt every time I saw her. It's not because she is complaining. Chris Kyle's wife had many reasons to complain. But Sienna Miller's acting performance in this is outright terrible. Adding to that is 95 percent of all conversations between her and Chris Kyle are really awkward and poorly written. Thus the frustration by your's truly. I enjoyed the war scenes despite the complaints that I mentioned. But I outright hated the scenes where he was not at home.
CHRIS KYLE AND BRADLEY COOPER
For most of this movie, as you could tell, I have been judging the movie itself. I have not spent much time at all about the politics or other stuff around it because I wanted to judge the movie, not the actual events that happened. But I want to now spend a bit talking about Chris Kyle himself and the portrayal of him in the movie. Like I mentioned toward the beginning of this, I spent a lot of time researching Chris Kyle and watching interviews that he did. Him being killed happened just recently and so there are interviews you can look up of him on Conan and other places talking about his experiences. After doing all this research, I can say that he is indeed an American war hero that deserves to be praised for his service. However, he is also a human being. Human beings are often very far from perfect and Chris Kyle himself, despite being a humble war hero, is also very controversial. He said and did a whole lot of things that make you raise an eyebrow and question his character. Did the movie touch on this? Absolutely not! In fact, it didn't touch it with a 39 1/2 foot pole. Chris Kyle is seen as a bit of an idiot in the beginning of the movie, but once we watches that news story that I mentioned, he is a perfect and flawless individual throughout the whole movie. Thus I think the movie missed out on a great opportunity to tell a much more interesting story about Chris Kyle.
Also released at about the same time as American Sniper was the movie Selma, which is essentially a biopic of Martin Luther King, Jr. That there is another American hero that deserves a whole lot of praise. At the same time, MLK was a flawed human being and one of the reasons I really, really liked Selma is that it showed how flawed MLK was while also showing the great things he did. This told the whole story of his person and I really appreciated it. No, it didn't make me think any less of MLK, but rather it made me appreciate him more because it showed the great things he did while also showing the things he struggled with and had to overcome. Had American Sniper gone this route, it could've been equally as amazing. Instead they decided to sugar-coat the whole thing by completely ignoring all his character flaws.
That said, I do have to praise Bradley Cooper for his performance as Chris Kyle. Even if his character wasn't written as interesting and complex as he could've been written, Bradley Cooper became Chris Kyle. If you go watch the interview of Chris Kyle, then watch American Sniper, you will see how excellent Bradley Cooper was. The most impressive acting performances in my opinion are those where an actor can completely immerse himself into the performance to the point where he becomes the character. This is exactly what Bradley Cooper does. Initially I was surprised and disappointed that Cooper got a best actor nomination over the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal or David Oyelowo, but in the end I think it was very deserved. Now I would've put Gyllenhaal and Oyelowo in over a couple other of the nominees, but that's beside the point.
Finally we've arrived at my final section before I give my summary and grade. After going on quite the roller coaster ride of liking and not liking this movie, for me it ended on a sour note. First off, the final transition from the war scenes to him being home was a bit odd. The scene was a big sandstorm and that in and of itself was really good. The story was intense. Chris Kyle had just shot the big enemy from 2100 yards away (holy cow!), which caused the other enemies to notice their location and start a very intense fight that culminated with a huge sandstorm where no one could see anything. But it's almost an unresolved cliff hanger because as a viewer you hear gunshots, but all you see is sand. Then it cuts to Chris Kyle being home and drinking in a bar. I wanted to learn how that was resolved! But oh well.
After he's home, we get these really interesting scenes of Chris Kyle suffering from PTSD. Thus you feel for him because it's a terrible thing that soldiers have to deal with when they are home. I personally thing this was portrayed very well by the movie, but once again we have the same problem that exists throughout the movie. It's rushed. We get a couple quick scenes of Chris Kyle suffering, but then it's over. Ok. Whatever. Now we move onto the scenes of him helping other marines out. This is cool. But it also feels rushed. I mean, Chris Kyle is talking a guy who suggests that he help other vets and so he does. This is very respectable, but it just happens like that. Rushed. Almost forced. Another whatever.
Then we get the very end. Chris Kyle walks out of his house because he is out to go spend time with this other military vet who arrives at his door. They get in the car and the movie ends. We are told with a subtitle that Chris Kyle got shot by that man that day and we end the movie with a sad funeral scene while the end credits are going. This bothered me because I think the ending would've ended on a very strong emotional note if we took even 30 seconds more to show the two at a gun range and see the guy pull a gun and shoot Chris Kyle. It doesn't have to be graphic. But it would've been more powerful instead of just telling us what happened. Instead of being emotionally impacted that Chris Kyle died, which I actually didn't realize happened -- I thought he was still alive, I was mad at the movie for giving me such an abrupt ending.
SUMMARY AND GRADE
In conclusion, this movie took me on quite the roller coaster ride. It flip-flopped between it being cringe-worthy awful to it being intense and powerful. After multiple viewings, my determination is that the contrast between these get even worse. The awful scenes became worse upon further viewings while the good scenes became even better. Because of this, I look at the movie and am very frustrated because of how good it could've been, but how good it is not. On top of this, even when I look at the good scenes, I am frustrated because of how much more in depth this movie could've been. Chris Kyle was a very controversial individual and they chose to completely ignore that. On top of that, this is a movie about the most deadly sniper in U.S. history where we spend more time telling us that he is the deadliest sniper instead of showing us why he is. Isn't a movie supposed to show and not tell? I already knew the things he had done. So what's the point of only telling me? After all this long, detailed analysis (which you get a huge prize if you actually read every word), it's hard to assign one grade because all these aspects I've discussed deserve a different grade. But I'm going to do it anyways and give American Sniper a 6/10.