Over the past week or so I’ve found myself wondering if the Academy still would have nominated American Sniper for Best Picture had they known the controversy it would create once it was released. I’m going to go ahead and state up front that I have no interest in debating the morality of war, and how it relates to American Sniper. That is not the purpose of this review, and therefore I will not address it.
However, in full disclosure I will state that I personally feel that, whether or not you agree with our government and their actions overseas, I do believe that the soldiers who are actually following orders and fighting on behalf of their country deserve respect. They miss holidays and birthdays, sacrifice time with loved ones, health (both physical and mental), and their lives and for that they deserve respect, not ridicule and distain.
American Sniper is based on the memoir written by Chris Kyle. I have heard many complain that the film glorifies war, but I actually had the opposite interpretation. I thought it showed the impact war has on those involved – this wasn’t a movie about war itself, but about the men who fight, and the people they leave behind. You could see the effect it had on the soldiers – even Kyle wasn’t immune to the mental toll of performing his duty. I feel like everyone is getting bogged down in arguing over whether or not the film is glorifying war and killing, while missing an opportunity to open a dialogue about mental health and veterans.
(Update: I was able to express my thoughts on some of the controversy of the film a little better on Facebook this morning. I find reactions to American Sniper increasingly frustrating. Last night I met a man who knew Chris Kyle during the war, and he spoke of how grateful he was to Kyle and rest of his SEAL team for every thing they did for the Army guys at a time that was “like the Wild West,” as he put it. I think while everyone complains about this movie, they’re forgetting that it’s not fiction, it’s about real people and in my opinion, those people still deserve respect. I also think all those who are criticizing it are just picking it apart and failing to see the bigger picture – that this isn’t a movie about politics or right vs. left, about whether war is right or wrong; it’s a movie about the men and women who fight, and the people they leave behind. It’s not about “Murica!” it’s about how hard it is for soldiers to just return to their every day lives after the things they’ve seen and done. Instead of dishonoring those soldiers, their families, and the sacrifices they’ve made, we could be using this film to open a dialogue about how we can better support our veterans both physically and mentally when they return home.)
While I don’t feel that the film glorifies war, I was disappointed with the use of the term “savages” in the film. I only picked up on two specific scenes in which this occurred, but it still stood out and felt wrong, especially because it wasn’t always used in a context where they were referring to just the enemies they were fighting.
The film also felt choppy at times. I couldn’t decide if the abrupt transitions between Kyle’s tours and his time at home were intentionally edited in such a way as to emphasize how unsettling it could be for the soldiers going from war back to their peaceful lives, or if it was just an artistic choice. If it’s the former, then it was effective; if it was the latter, then it makes very little sense.
Looking at the film objectively, it was well done, though I’m not sure I would have chosen it for a potential Best Picture nominee had I seen it before the nominations were announced; I really don’t expect it to take home that prize, and not just because of its controversial nature.
Bradly Cooper’s performance, however, is definitely deserving of the recognition he has received. I do believe this is probably his best performance to date, far outstripping the performances for which he has previously been nominated. He completely threw himself into the role and there were times where, if I hadn’t been able to see his eyes, I may not have recognized him. No matter what your personal opinions about this film may be, the fact is, Cooper’s performance is incredible.
In all honesty, given the competition in the category I don’t expect him to win either, but this is the first year I’ve really believed he deserved the nomination. It’s not that any of his other performances were lacking, but they were roles performances I would expect from Cooper, whereas this was something else entirely. I’ve loved him ever since the first episode of Alias, but if you had told five or 10 years ago he would be nominated for an Oscar for a role like this, I may have laughed in your face (particularly after The Hangover came out). However this role proves that Cooper truly is a great actor, not just a pretty face.
Favorite: I’m not sure that I have a favorite moment exactly, but the scene where Kyle is on the phone with his wife just as they come under attack was well done – though I did find myself wondering if it would actually have been daylight in both places.
1. The Theory of Everything
2. The Imitation Game
3. American Sniper