Oscars 2015 Best Picture Nominee Review #1: AMERICAN SNIPER | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Nominee Review #1: AMERICAN SNIPER

Bradley Cooper and the well-edited combat sequences are top notch, but AMERICAN SNIPER squanders its chance to rise the movie above the mediocrity of a typical biopic formula.

After directing the two-part WWII movie of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA in 2006, Clint Eastwood returns with another war genre in AMERICAN SNIPER -- a remarkable true story about Chris Kyle, who is a NAVY SEALs most decorated sniper who served four tours of duty in Iraq with a record-breaking 160 confirmed kills to his name. Such story makes a riveting biopic, but Eastwood, who replaced original director Steven Spielberg, executed the movie more like a standard-issue war picture than a great motion picture.


Based on the late Chris Kyle's 2012 memoir of the same name, AMERICAN SNIPER recounts his life (played by Bradley Cooper) from the beginning as a rodeo cowboy working alongside with his brother Jeff (Keir O'Donnell) at the Texas rodeo circuit before he decides to join the Navy SEALs at the age of 30. After an intense training process, he becomes a trained sniper and eventually being deployed to Iraq for his first tour of duty in the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As a straightforward war movie, Clint Eastwood proves to be a skillful craftsman when comes to staging visceral combat sequences without the need of shaky camerawork to mimic the chaos of a war that plagued most like-minded genre these days. With the help of cinematographer Tom Stern and editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach, the action set-piece is undeniably taut and gripping enough to hold your attention.

Bradley Cooper delivers a solid lead performance as Chris Kyle. With a bearded face and reportedly gained 18kg to bulk up for his role, Cooper looks physically convincing as a Navy SEALs sniper. The nearly unrecognisable Sienna Miller is perfectly subdued in her supporting role as Kyle's loving wife, Taya.

The harrowing sequence where Kyle is forced to make tough decision to take down a mother and son, who are carrying a grenade; and the ambush sequence that ends with the Butcher (Mido Hamada) brutally killed the father and the son of an Iraqi family.

While the acting is great and the movie is technically proficient enough, AMERICAN SNIPER feels like a conventional biopic that doesn't dig deep into the context. For instance, Jason Hall's clich├ęd screenplay rarely digs beyond the surface of what we already know about Kyle as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history.

Then there's an amount of melodramatic moments involving Kyle's domestic life back home that drags like a forgettable TV drama-of-the-week. It's a shame that Eastwood fails to put much effort on executing an effective drama to balance with the more arresting combat sequence. However, what's baffling me the most is the scene involving Kyle holding his newborn child. Although such scene is supposed to be very common, I couldn't believe my eyes that Eastwood favours a fake baby over a real baby. It is nevertheless a lazy creative decision for such reputable director like Clint Eastwood.


At the time of this writing, AMERICAN SNIPER has already broke January box office record with an estimated $89.5 million for the first three days in the U.S. box office, making it as the highest-grossing movie nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture this year. It was an extraordinary feat, but creatively speaking, this Oscar-nominated biopic deserved a better screen treatment for such a notable figure like Chris Kyle.

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