The two most disappointing films of the season should have been two of the most gripping: “Unbroken” (also opening on Christmas) and Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” Eastwood’s second misfire of the year (after the deadly “Jersey Boys”).
The film is based on the memoir by former SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who served four tours of duty in Iraq (where he had a price on his head by al-Qaeda because of his deadly prowess – more than 100 confirmed kills). “American Sniper” gives Bradley Cooper room to show range beyond the fast-talking, short-fused types he played for David O. Russell in the past couple of years.
But as nuanced as Cooper’s performance of Kyle’s interior struggle with both the danger of warfare and the resulting PTSD may be, it is undercut every step of the way by a film that never shows what should be the most dramatic moments. It’s as if there’s another story being told off-camera that we’re not privy to.
As portrayed by Cooper in Jason Hall’s episodic, lurching script, Kyle is a one-time rodeo rider who enlists and then survives the brutal SEAL training to emerge, post-9/11, as the cool-under-pressure sniper that his fellow soldiers call “The Legend.” He eventually wracks up 150-plus confirmed kills and 100 more that are unconfirmed. The opposition refers to him as “the Devil of Ramadi.”
But what do we learn about him in the course of this choppy film? That he’s willing to kill women and children who carry suicide bombs before they can reach American troops. That he suffers when he sees his friends killed next to him. That he’s remote and uncommunicative with his wife (Sienna Miller in a thankless role), when he rotates States-side after a grueling tour of duty.
This review continues on my website.