Road to the Oscars – American Sniper

American Sniper
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Jason Hall
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

* Contains spoilers *

Why it might win Best Picture
The film, based on the story of Texan Chris Kyle (Cooper), Navy SEAL and one of the most lethal snipers in the United States, is a compelling pro-America tale about fighting evil and killing bad guys in Iraq. I tend to view the whole “based on a true story” thing very loosely when it comes to Hollywood films, because I know that so much is exaggerated or created to fit the narrative, and from what I’ve read, American Sniper is no different. After being injured in a rodeo ride, Kyle enlists in the Navy and undergoes intense basic training. His skills lie in sharp shooting – he can hit a target from almost a mile away and when he ships out to Iraq after the 9/11 attacks, he becomes the most lethal sniper in the military. His wife, Taya (Miller), pregnant with their first child, is at home anxiously awaiting his safe return. Kyle does four tours in Iraq, and on each tour he becomes more and more determined to kill an Iraqi sniper known as The Butcher. The Butcher, also known as Moustafa, is after Kyle as well, after his skill becomes legend in the Middle East and a price is put on his head. And so the story becomes an engaging and tense ride through combat zones as Kyle and his team hunt down their prey. These scenes are interspersed with brief scenes back home in between tours, where Kyle is so quietly uncomfortable being back in civilisation and can barely conceal his eagerness to go back on tour, a sore point with his wife Taya who needs him at home with their growing family. Cooper gives a subtle but complex performance as Kyle, channeling his all-American physique and patriotism. Some of his best scenes are the ones where he’s obviously trying to quash the internal torment he feels about killing people, about having to be back at home, and on his last tour, about having to be at war. He and Miller work well together as the conflict between the two of them increases throughout the film, and Cooper’s loyalty to his country seemingly becomes stronger than his loyalty to his wife. The combat scenes are well executed and concise; there are no unnecessarily drawn-out battles and the gore factor is mostly from a distance. The themes of war, heroism and post-traumatic stress disorder are explored through Kyle’s increasing detachment and inability to acknowledge the sheer force of his skill at killing other people, and Cooper’s performance in these scenes show an incredible depth to the inner turmoil of his character. Eastwood’s skilled adaptation of Kyle’s autobiography is absorbing and unsettling simultaneously, and I think being able to successfully invoke feeling like that in an audience will be what gives it a chance at winning.

Why it might not win Best Picture
Ignoring the facts that the film conveniently leaves out to create such an intense film, there are holes in the story that could hurt its chances. The most gaping of these is how the film touches on post traumatic stress disorder, but doesn’t really explore it in depth. As mentioned, Kyle’s detachment to home life and some brief encounters and conversations with his colleagues in the field and his own brother shine a brief light on how worn down and unhappy the soldiers become after years of fighting, but the film never really delves too deeply into how they deal with it. In fact, Kyle’s brother isn’t seen or mentioned again after they briefly see each other in passing on an airfield where he confesses to hating Iraq. It’s almost as if they just didn’t know how to fit in any closer examination of the subject, which is a shame because throughout the film Cooper’s acting chops illustrate how readily he could have tackled that material. There’s also not a lot of discussion around the theme of war itself, and maybe that’s on purpose. It’s a weighty, political subject after all, and perhaps the film isn’t the right vehicle for an in-depth examination of it, but the film really doesn’t address it much at all, preferring instead to keep a narrow focus on Kyle’s mission. I think those things could leave audiences wanting, and I’d say that’s what will hurt it’s chances at winning tomorrow.

Have you seen American Sniper? I’d love to know what you thought!

Until next time,

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