Tours of Duty
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 tour of duty seeing his kills racking up, but 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 with more of an anti-war message; and a respectfulness towards the family of Chris Kyle that leaves this portrayal perhaps riding a little optimistic toward the truth regarding the true effect of killing 255 people.
This may not paint a Deer Hunter-like portrait of the effects of war, but it does impressively capture the tension of in-country assaults.
Despite the inherent restrictions, 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 to see that American Sniper is up for Best Picture, and that Cooper is up for Best Actor. 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.
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