Sunday, 25 January 2015

War Under The Scope

Award season is known to bring the drama. That hard hitting, nail biting kind of thrill that comes with great performances, masterful writing, and a handy director. And one topic that appears constantly is the war film. Consider, in the last few years, Kathryn Bigelow's films The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty and their award successes. And this year, Clint Eastwood has turned his hand to the Academy's favourite genre. This is American Sniper.

Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is a wannabe cowboy with a cheating girlfriend and very few prospects. But after the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, he signs up for the Navy SEAL program, during which he meets Taya (Sienna Miller). After excelling as a sniper in training, Kyle soon finds himself deployed to Iraq after the 9/11 attacks and his wedding to Taya. Slowly but surely, he racks up kills to make himself one of the most legendary marksmen on the planet, but also one of the most wanted. A brutal terrorist known as The Butcher is attacking and dismembering the Iraqi innocents who assist the US military in any way and it becomes Kyle's mission to take him out.

Camouflage that even works indoors. 

With three Academy Award nominations in a row, Bradley Cooper is at his finest yet here. After brilliant performances in both Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Cooper takes on the challenge of portraying a man both loved and hated by many*, the most deadly sniper in the US who also suffered with PTSD. He is almost unrecognisable as Kyle, stuttering his way through conversation and having beefed up tremendous amounts of body mass for the role. There is subtlety and conviction to Cooper's performance and it carries the film almost single handedly. Wonderfully supported by Miller and the rest of the cast, American Sniper is filled with thrilling acting throughout.

'What do you mean they cancelled Firefly?!'

Clint Eastwood had a busy 2014 with Jersey Boys under his belt as well, but American Sniper is a roaring success. Rattling on with a killer pace, its representation of war is unrelenting and brutal. Bullets hit hard on all sides, bodies drop quickly, the is no over played, heart-felt farewell scenes. Whilst the film is not without its flaws (one scene where a death is rather dramatised is particularly forced and jarring with the rest of the film's pace), it is a suspenseful and tense thriller that deserves more of the praise and less of the controversy surrounding it.

It is no Hurt Locker, Full Metal Jacket, or Saving Private Ryan, but its vision of war and the traumas and mental strain it produces are both touching and unsettling.

Best Bit? Kyle is pinned down on a roof with an enemy sniper aimed at him whilst The Butcher closes in with a drill on a child's knee. Tense stuff.

*Author Disclaimer: This is a blog interested in reviewing films on the film's merit. Criticism of Chris Kyle as a real man are, to me, a different subject. Entering the film with no prior knowledge of him is how my review is written. To me, this film is more than a representation of an American 'hero', it is a representation of war and the psychological damages that come with it. 

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