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REVIEW - American Sniper - 5 out of 5 - by Don Gibble

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REVIEW - American Sniper
5 out of 5 - by Don Gibble

The Academy Award nominations were announced and the amazing Clint Eastwood was left out as Best Director for his best film to date, “American Sniper”. The film was nominated for six academy awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Bradley Cooper. How could a movie direct itself?Eastwood was snubbed as was Sienna Miller who plays Cooper's wife.

The Supporting Actress category is the most exciting. Meryl Streep was nominated for her amazing performance in “Into the Woods” and Patricia Arquette for “Boyhood”. This is Streep's 19th nomination which gives her  the record for the most nominations. This past weekend, “American Sniper” made $105.3 million over the four day Martin Luther King weekend which broke a record. Unfortunately for Cooper, Michael Keaton is a lock to win for his performance in “Birdman”.

Let's talk about how great “American Sniper” is. Do not wait to see this one at home. See it in the theater. The movie is an account of the brief life of the most accomplished marksman in American military annals. The gun has been Eastwood's most frequent co-star since the beginning of his career and has played a major role in most of his best films, from the Westerns and the “Dirty Harrys” to the war dramas. As the title suggests, a gun shares the screen with Cooper here.

Initiated by screenwriter Jason Hall in conjunction with Chris Kyle while the latter was still alive and before the publication of the book Kyle wrote with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice, the film is surprisingly different from the book in its focus and feel. The script tends to emphasize major hazardous episodes in each of the soldier's four tours of duty, which are staged with the requisite intensity and are interrupted by brief respites that illustrate Kyle's increasingly detached relationship with his wife and family.

The opening features a warm impression of Kyle's boozy, teasing courtship with bar room pickup Taya (Sienna Miller). Then it's off to Fallujah where Kyle's mettle as a sniper is severely tested by his first challenge, taking out what appears to be a mother and son intent on blowing up a group of U.S. soldiers with a large grenade. So unerring is Kyle's aim and ability to spot ripe candidates for killing that he very quickly becomes commonly referred to as “The Legend”.

When possible targets become scarce, Kyle joins the men assigned to the arduous task of clearing houses door-to-door in hopes of finding a despicable character called “The Butcher”, who, when seen in action, fully lives up to his nickname. The urban environment in which much of the Iraq War was fought is evoked here with a pungent sense of the dust, smoke and filth of combat, along with the confusion and uncertainty that must have prevailed much of the time.

After a quick visit to San Diego on the occasion of the birth of his and Taya's first child, Kyle's second tour is entirely devoted to the elimination of “The Butcher”. Brief but grisly torture marks this rough interlude, which numbs Kyle perhaps more than he realizes.

When he next returns home, Taya discharges a full round of on-the-nose complaints. While it first appears that the home front difficulties between Kyle and Taya will receive something close to equal weight with the combat, they progressively become shortchanged to the point that Kyle's visits seem like obligatory, increasingly tense pit stops rather than occasions to really explore the extent of the soldier's psycho-emotional rearrangement and his wife's burden.

Feeling the compulsion to return to war, Kyle has a rougher time of it on his third and fourth tours of duty. The fighting has gotten nastier. Kyle realizes he's had enough. When all is said and done, he has spent about a thousand days in Iraq and recorded more than 160 official kills, although the actual figure was probably significantly higher.

Eastwood handles the tragic ending with a tact underlined with irony, creepiness and a sense of loss that echoes any number of his previous films. Cooper's physical transformation is one thing. And his skill with jokey banter serves him well in his early scenes with Miller and the guys. But nothing the actor has done before suggests the dramatic assuredness he brings to his way of detailing Kyle's self-control, confidence, coolness, genuine concern for his comrades in arms, compulsion to serve his country and ultimate realization that enough is enough, even of the thing he loves most, which is war. This is Cooper's best film to date. 

American Sniper - back in Iraq