There is something rotten at the very core of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper.
On the surface it’s a perfectly serviceable, if slightly dull, war film but looking into it all means it’s impossible to not feel angered by what is shown on screen.
The film tells the story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), America’s most celebrated sniper, credited with more than 160 kills in four tours of Iraq.
A man who most would have alternatively called a monster, a hero or a psychopath depending on who you speak to.
In his memoirs Kyle often talks about his bloodlust, how he enjoyed every one of his kills because he believed in what he was doing and that he really believed that the people he was shooting were truly an inferior race.
With such a fascinating, if despicable, subject matter it’s disappointing that Eastwood plays it completely safe and irons out any of the flaws his protagonist had, presenting him as some kind of white knight.
Even when Kyle is forced to gun down a child, the film remains cold and as unmoved as Kyle himself, condoning his actions the whole way through.
After the backlash received by Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent Zero Dark Thirty, one would expect some sort of nuance when dealing with recent wars, but Eastwood is incapable of it.
Instead he makes it an entirely black and white conflict, in which all Iraqis are portrayed as savages.
Both Eastwood and Cooper have gone on record to say that the film offers no moral stance on the war and is instead a study on Kyle’s character, which makes the director’s and screenwriter’s choices even more baffling.
That aside there is still very little that works about Sniper.
The film plays itself in a repetitive structure that sees Kyle go back and forth between his home and the war.
The scenes back in America are all a chore. Kyle’s wife Taya (Sienna Miller), is nothing more than a gorgeous baby making machine with zero personality who is only seen begging her husband to stay at home or crying about him over the phone.
The scenes are insufferable, a chore to get through, but that’s the point.
The audience wants to get to war as badly as Kyle, so as to not have to sit through another line of the on-the-nose dialogue that lacks any subtlety.
The biggest problem is that when we get to the frontline it’s largely just as dull.
The first sequence is exciting but after that Eastwood doesn’t know what to do to freshen it up.
Even though it’s better than the home scenes the war elements of the movie are all a little flat, failing to spark any sense of exhilaration or tension.
There are many exciting visual possibilities to play with when portraying sniper action, but none of them are played with – there is no flair to the directing.
Eastwood mostly points the camera and lets the action take its course.
This is indicative of the whole of American Sniper though, a film that could and should have been so much more.
But even with all its rough edges ironed out, it instead gets wallows in the obvious and is nothing more than the glorification of a killer.
Image courtesy of Village Roadshow Productions via YouTube, with thanks