There was a point, before Clint Eastwood stepped through the saloon doors, pistol in hand, that American Sniper was a Steven Spielberg film. Within all the flag waving bravado of the film as it exists now is a semblance of Spielberg’s concept. The idea that a man, trained for one soul purpose in life; to kill America’s enemies, is somehow not protecting the thing most important to him; his family.
So for all the starring down the telescopic sights, disintegrating insurgents’ heads in puffs of claret, American Sniper misses the target. Because the story of Chris Kyle America’s most lethal sniper, with over 160 confirmed kills to his name, should be more than just about the killing. And occasionally, like a glimpse of an enemy far off in the distance, it is. When Chris’ pains at missing his wife and family do sneak into vision the film becomes something genuinely engaging. One such action sequence starts with Chris on the mobile to his wife before he drops the phone in order to go all bad-ass, leaving his wife not knowing if he’s alive, shot, hurt or merely busy.
Of course much of the shift in tone could be down to Kyle’s worshipped status in his home state of Texas. Was he a perfect man? Almost certainly not but the film doesn’t want to challenge the preconception that he is true blue American hero. As such, for much of the running time, the film feels like The Hurt Locker light. It tackles similar issues but never with the kinetic verve and impact Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winner did. Instead Eastwood, who knows a thing or two about gunslingers, treats the story with workman-like efficiency. Rarely does in conjure anything hugely memorable and you cannot help but wonder had Eastwood seen this as more of a Western it could have been taken to fascinating visual levels.
Bradley Cooper, who also produced the film, has clearly bulked-up to Kyle’s imposing frame but, despite an Oscar nomination for his role, feels slightly wooden. His star power and natural screen presence carries the film on broad shoulders but you never feel that he’s pushing himself as many of his more recent films have done. Sienna Miller, something of the go-to girl for adoring wife roles at the moment between this and Foxcatcher, gives a nice turn as Kyle’s wife. She strikes a good balance between sassy girl and worried wife.
A solid little war film that could have been so much more, American Sniper aims high but fails to feel the impact of the killer shot.