Within the course of a few weeks, Clint Eastwood‘s latest film, American Sniper, has taken the country by storm. It recently grabbed six Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. In its first weekend it grossed $90 million, the second-largest opening for an R-rated film in history. And now, it is the subject of debates about its political and possibly jingoistic nature; it has become the most talked about movie in America since a certain film about Kim Jong Un almost didn’t get released. While the media continues to proliferate with think-pieces about the political aspects and accuracy of the film, the sad truth is that American Sniper isn’t even a good enough a movie to warrant the incoming shitstorm.
American Sniper is competently made and well acted, but incredibly pointless and repetitive. It’s a biopic about America’s deadliest sniper that doesn’t really care about being a biopic at all. Put simply, it’s just not very good. It’s nothing more than four extended action sequences with brief and woefully underdeveloped dramatic interludes. The way this movie is structured, there were times when I felt that it would never end. It’s a drama that’s actually a CALL OF DUTY video game in nature. If we were to use this metaphor to describe American Sniper, the entire movie would be nothing more than cold open, cutscene, mission, cutscene, mission, cutscene, mission, cutscene, mission, cutscene, credits. As with a video game, the cutscenes do little more than provide the viewers with basic context and give the action some semblance of meaning. Unfortunately, meaning is hard to find here.
Once in a while, you’ll stumble upon an incredibly tense action sequence or a powerful moment sprinkled here and there; but you have to sit through somebody else playing the game to get there. And once in a while again, you’ll stumble across astonishingly ill-conceived scenes you won’t believe made the final cut. In a howlingly funny dramatic scene, Bradley Cooper is holding his newborn baby, which is obviously a rubber prop. Down to the way the actors try to make this rubber baby seem realistic and the crying noises inserted by the film editors, everything about what could have been a compelling scene transforms it into bizarre, unintentional comedy. Clint Eastwood is a director known for only doing a few takes for each scene, and in this case it’s clear he sent somebody to Toys”R”Us so he could rush along to finish it.
But rubber babies aside, the problem with American Sniper is that it’s a big movie about war with nothing to say. Is this movie jingoistic? Not really. He just killed a lot of people really effectively. Does this movie have any political slant? Nope. The most political thing you’ll see in this movie is a shot of a TV broadcasting the events of September 11 on the news. Is our American Sniper Chris Kyle a hero or villain? I still don’t know. He just seems like a guy who’s very competent at his job. And does the film say whether war is good or bad? Not at all. War is portrayed violently, but Kyle’s PTSD is skimmed over so lightly that anything resembling consequence is almost a nonexistent afterthought. Everything that’s not an action sequence in this movie is relegated to the sidelines and rushed through so quickly that they might as well have handed out free CliffsNotes at every screening.
American Sniper isn’t a terrible movie by any means, it’s just not very good. After Seth Rogen created an international marketing coup with The Interview, the core reaction when people finally saw it was, “That was it?” Regardless of the freedom-of-speech issue, The Interview was a moronically amusing movie about North Korea with jokes about dicks and buttholes. But unlike American Sniper, it actually had something to say about the dictatorship and America’s hypocrisy. We could descend into think-pieces about a hugely overrated and repetitive action movie glossed in shiny Oscar coating, or we could maybe go out and just see something good. With the two hours you might spend writing a think-piece, you could just go see something better like Inherent Vice or A Most Violent Year instead.
American Sniper isn’t an offensive America Fuck Yeah propaganda experience or a thoughtful Hurt Locker meditation on the psychological effects of war. It’s not even a bad movie or a troubling one either. American Sniper is simply a war movie that manages to be about absolutely nothing. And it’s just not very good.
dir. Clint Eastwood