The Chris Kyle murder trial was a huge deal near me. It took place roughly 40 minutes from my house, and so that is all I heard about for months. The murder itself was a big deal, but after the movie it was like our whole area capitalized on the success of the film in order to make this trial is BIG DEAL. Regardless of your thoughts on war itself, there is no denying that Chris Kyle’s story is not only a fascinating one, but a profoundly poignant one. I will never hide my neutrality. I hate warfare and find it to be an unnecessary means and I am NOT ok with the way that this particular war transpired and progressed, but that is no disrespect to the men and women who lay their lives on the line for something they believe in. Granted, not all are there for the right reasons (I literally had to sit at dinner for a week on a cruise with strangers, one of which was a marine, and hear them talk about how the only reason they would want to go to war would be to kill people), but for those who are there for a just cause, I can’t fault them their convictions.
Chris Kyle seems to have been there for the right reasons.
Still, ‘American Sniper’ takes those best of intentions and helps us to see why war is such a disastrous ‘means to an end’. I only wish that it had developed those themes a little tighter.
Chris Kyle was a legend. He was known as Legend thanks to his kill count as a sniper for the US Army as a Navy SEAL. The saying goes that there are some things you can’t un-see. My grandfather fought in World War II and spoke many times of the things he saw when he closed his eyes (one such story, of lampshades made with human skin, haunted my childhood), and so, as Kyle’s story is told, we can see in his eyes the things he’s reliving, the things he’s still seeing. As Kyle spends his time on his tours we see his personality change, and this makes coming home all the more difficult, because these are all things he takes with him. His reaction to his fellow soldiers after a kill says it all. While at first he’s filled with a hesitant pride (“What did I just do? I can’t believe that was me.”), his demeanor eventually portrays an inner self-loathing and almost guilt (“What did I just do? I can’t believe that was me.”).
For me, ‘American Sniper’ is on the cuff of greatness, but loses sure-footing with a lack of focus. By continually switching from Kyle’s time in the trenches so-to-speak to his time at home, the core of this story doesn’t have time to fully develop. That internal struggle that Kyle undergoes when he’s home isn’t given the due attention it deserves, and the finale loses almost all momentum as the ending gets a ‘tacked on’ treatment that undercuts the impact it could have had. I’m not suggesting anything like showing the murder, because it’s too new, too fresh to be an appropriate thing to show, but Kyle’s own emotional turnaround isn’t given the attention it deserved. His shift from introverted and depressed to ‘filled with purpose’ and happy was too swift. It basically happened within the confines of a single scene, and so it felt underdeveloped. I take that back; it didn’t ‘feel’ underdeveloped, it WAS underdeveloped.
This, for me, was a real shame.
While I understand the importance of the war scenes, and some of them were absolutely stellar in their technicality, they became redundant in many ways and could have been trimmed, some even excluded altogether, in order to focus more on what Kyle was going through at home. The front end and back end of the film were in dire need of more development. The relationship with his wife Taya was also painfully underdeveloped, and while Sienna Miller (what a comeback she’s having) delivers some heartbreaking moments, she felt like a plot point to me, like a character that was exploited for her tears (notice how just about every scene she’s in, save her introduction, she’s crying) and dramatic effect.
|Miller's on the set...cue the tears!|
The savior of this film, surprisingly, is Bradley Cooper, who delivers his most mature and defined work to date. I am not his biggest fan, and I’ve made that clear before, but here he completely derailed me. He does so much with the underdeveloped lines in the screenplay, coloring in every single scene he’s in (which is nearly every single scene) with this complete understanding of Kyle’s emotional development. You feel his shifts, even when the script refuses to define them. His eyes KILLED me.
And be forewarned: Eastwood GOES THERE with this, presenting some startling images and scenes that almost feel too far (the child killing is brutally extreme) but represent the realities of war with crushing detail.
So, in the end I admire what Eastwood was trying to do here. He presented a story that underscores the atrocities of war without being a direct advocate against it. It’s a film that can appeal to both sides of the coin, giving those who are pro-war the stirring feeling of a united brotherhood and the passions of protecting the country we love and also giving the anti-war advocates the crushing realism that causes us to take the stance we have taken. It isn’t partial, bias or preachy (which is not what I was expecting, to be honest). It just tells its story.
I just wish that it had told it a little deeper.