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  • by Jeff Beck

American Sniper: A Superficial Look at an Incredible Life

Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller in "American Sniper"

The once-great directing career of the legendary Clint Eastwood, a career that won him four Oscars (“Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby”), has fallen into ruin as of late. His last great film, “Gran Torino,” came in 2008, but unfortunately this has been followed up by several duds that have included “J. Edgar,” a sloppy biopic about J. Edgar Hoover, and most recently, “Jersey Boys,” an uninspired and stilted biopic about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. However, he hasn’t let this stop him from soldiering on, which brings us to his latest project, “American Sniper,” an attempt to tell the true life story of Navy S.E.A.L. Chris Kyle.

From early on in his life, Chris (Bradley Cooper) was good with a rifle, having been taught to hunt by his father. One day, he sees a news report about an attack on an American embassy and decides that he wants to help defend the country, leading him to a recruiting agent for the Navy S.E.A.L.s. After a rigorous period of training, he finds that his talents lie behind the scope of a sniper rifle, a position he will take up once deployed overseas following the 9/11 attacks. However, before he is deployed, he meets Taya (Sienna Miller) and begins a relationship that leads to marriage and a child, both of which he must leave behind when his tour begins. The film follows Chris on his four tours of duty, showing us the dangers he faces with his brother-in-arms, in addition to the hardship he faces when he comes home in between, where we find that his profession begins to have a rather large impact.

“American Sniper” should have been an exciting and emotional tale of a man who served his country while trying to lead a regular life with his family, but what we get instead is something that Eastwood has been producing a lot of lately: a flat and lifeless biopic that doesn’t even begin to do justice to its subject. What we have here is a superficial look at Chris Kyle, showing us how he joined the Navy S.E.A.L.s, how he met his wife, and what he did overseas, but what’s missing is perhaps the most important element of all: an exploration of the man himself. How does his work affect him? How does it make him feel? How does he deal with it while trying to lead a happy life with Taya? These are all things that are glossed over in favor of quick glimpses of his home life and several repetitive looks at him in action with his sniper rifle.

Screenwriter Jason Hall (“Paranoia”) seems to mistake the latter for being the most important element of the film, but the audience knows very quickly that he was great at what he did for this country, so to focus on that element so much only leads to a sense of monotony and becomes a distraction from the far more interesting parts that could have been examined. What we end up with is a rather empty film that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of this incredible individual, a shell that gives us the layout of his life, but nothing more. We can only hope that, should he attempt to continue with his string of biopics, Eastwood will break this habit of picking scripts that are unable to get inside the subject and reestablish the sense of good judgment he was once known for. 2/4 stars.

Now playing in theaters everywhere.

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