Every single shot kills
American Sniper Film Review
One of the most accomplished movies that acclaimed – and prolific – filmmaker Clint Eastwood has made in the last few years, American Sniper is an impressive little character-driven war movie.Based on the autobiography of the deadliest marksman in US military history, Chris Kyle, the film explores his development, from child to man; from rodeo-riding wannabe-cowboy to legendary long gun. With each successive tour of duty we see his kills racking up, but also the strain on his psyche and on his family left behind, pushing things ever closer to breaking point. Bradley Cooper puts in a career-high performance as Kyle, bulking up and toning down his usual playful charm in favour of a far more flawed character. Driven by a near-obsessive desire to serve his country, you can see the toll that it takes to kill men, women and children, often with the ultimate decision as to whether or not to pull the trigger left at his ‘discretion’. Of course, it’s his family who have to pick up the pieces every time he returns home, and a near unrecognisable Sienna Miller puts in her own career-high performance as his devoted wife, who is increasingly shocked by the changes in the man she married, and even more concerned that he just keeps wanting to go back out there.Eastwood works some serious magic in this movie, truly impressing, even more so considering he’s 84 years old! He had some assistance, however, before he even got on-board the project, with Steven Spielberg previously assigned directorial duties and coming up with some interesting script changes (ideas which he could have arguably easily gotten from watching Enemy at the Gates) which would carry over into Eastwood’s tour. Yet Eastwood still makes this his own piece, with a keen eye for wonderful shots and stunning cinematography, tense confrontations and impressively-staged action. Indeed the only things that appear to restrain him from making this a more psychologically-evolved character study is a desire to ultimately remain patriotic and pro-war despite a story that was crying out for more of an anti-war message; and a respectfulness towards the family of Chris Kyle. Both of these goals ultimately leave the portrayal perhaps riding a little optimistically towards the truth regarding the real effect of killing 255 people.
Blu-ray Picture QualityWarner Bros. appear to have delivered the exact same excellent Region Free package that was available a few weeks ago Stateside, with an excellent 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation which comes framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen.
Eastwood’s eye for filmic textures is still precise as ever, with a wonderfully cinematic look to the feature.
Detail is superior, with some strong facial close-ups revealing the increasingly worn visages of the battle-hardened soldiers, whilst the war-ravaged landscape promotes a diverse range of finely detailed backgrounds. Indeed the military accuracy feels painstakingly authentic, another nod towards the precise manner of Eastwood’s methods. The colour scheme is dominated by greys and browns, steeped within the chaos of the wartorn Middle East locales, but tones are still rich and deep, with strong black levels – Eastwood’s renowned for his shadowplay - without any signs of the blacks imploding and leaving us without any shadow detail. Sure, there’s the tiniest of hints of banding – oddly present on the more CG-tainted shots, but otherwise there’s very little keeping this from being a top marks presentation, and it’s definitely in the demo range.
Blu-ray Sound QualityThe aural accompaniment is equally impressive, coming with a stunning Dolby Atmos soundtrack that can be listened to in 5.1, 7.1 or various Atmos configurations.
Cas Harlow reviewed the audio using a standard 5.1-channel setup - The regular soundtrack provides a wonderfully engulfing soundscape for the feature to play out, bringing the battlefront to life with every crunching tank track and thunderous high velocity round. Explosions will shake your sofa, and the trademark Eastwood score promotes a melancholy backdrop to the portentous events. Dialogue remains clear and coherent and, even with the just the core soundtrack, you get demo marksmanship through and through; an exceptional aural presentation which only gets better when you turn to the Atmos upgrade.
If you're looking for a film to show what Dolby Atmos can really do, this is the disc for you.
Steve Withers reviewed the audio using a 7.2.4-channel Dolby Atmos setup - Watching American Sniper with a full Dolby Atmos setup including four overhead speakers was nothing short of a revelation. There's no doubt that as sound mixers and editors get better at using Dolby Atmos, so the experience becomes less about gimmicks and more about enhancing your viewing pleasure. American Sniper was nominated for Academy Awards in both Sound Mixing and Sound Editing and it quite deservedly won for the latter. The use of an object-based sound mix results in a completely immersive experience where the ability to move objects around in three-dimensional space totally draws into the movie. We were hugely impressed with certain sequences in Unbroken and found that American Sniper managed to top even those, especially during its final fire-fight.
You would expect the gunfire, explosions and general chaos of warfare to surround you and so it does but the soundtrack does more than just immerse you in a battle, it puts you inside Chris Kyle's head. This is especially true of the sniper sequences when the POV moves to Kyle's scope and the audio almost tunnels around you, as if you're inside the scope. It's a subtle but highly effective approach, as is the deliberate use of dynamic range as scenes cut from Iraq to the US and back again. The general sense of the acoustics of an environment is also wonderfully captured, making each location feel completely real. The film has a very minimalist score that was actually written by the talented but humble Eastwood, who went uncredited. There are long sections of the film without any score, which makes its rare use all the more effective.
The bass extension is also impressive, not just with obvious effects like tanks and explosions but also with the gunfire. Even though the guns sometimes have suppressors on them, there's still a low-end kick to remind how powerful the ordinance is and their affect on the human body. However it's during the climatic sandstorm that the full impact of Atmos comes to bear with all the speakers and the subs bursting into life, completely enveloping you and making the entire sequence remarkably visceral. Of course there are also plenty of helicopters and drones flying overhead in the Iraq sequences, not to mention highly realistic echoes to gunshots. However, it's the sound designer's ability to use Atmos in unexpected and surprising ways that makes American Sniper such a stand-out soundtrack.
Blu-ray ExtrasA little light in terms of extras, we still get two decent Documentary-style features, both running at half an hour in length, with one focussing on the preparation work done with the assistance of the real sniper and the evolution of the script as real-life events changed the shape of the film. The second is more of conventional Making-of offering, with interview snippets and behind the scenes shots. Both are welcome background featurettes, although a Commentary would have gone down a treat.
American Sniper Blu-ray VerdictDespite some slight reservations regarding the pro-war aspects and dampening of the more psychological aspects of character study, this is very much a welcome companion-piece to the recent, similarly-themed, Award-winning efforts from Kathryn Bigelow: The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. It’s no wonder that American Sniper won so many awards, not least thanks to Bradley Cooper’s powerful, near-unrecognisable, career-high performance. Even if the film is far from a perfect creation – and far from Eastwood’s absolute best – it’s still a refined, accomplished work that is worthy of much of the praise that has been lavished upon it.
This is refined, accomplished work worthy of the praise that has been lavished upon it.
The Blu-ray release lives up to the quality of the film, with Eastwood's direction - both in terms of visuals and score design - leaving an imprint on a rich and classically cinematic-looking film. The picture quality is fantastic and the stunning Atmos-enhanced audio is a revelation, whilst a couple of weighty extras offering up some background and round off the disc. This is a highly recommended release for fans of the film and a reference status disc for everyone else.
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