365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About

25Jan/150

American Sniper (2014)

In a year that hasn't had that many must see movies, American Sniper has proved that there is at least one reason to head out to the theaters. 2014 has been the most disappointing year overall for movies since 2008. Yet despite its absolutely horrendous start and some incredibly overrated movies (Birdman, Unbroken, Mr. Turner, Snowpiercer, Godzilla, even Boyhood to an extent) some movies did manage to live up to their expectations (Foxcatcher, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game) and some movies managed to exceed the expectations that I had for them (The Drop, Nightcrawler, Kill the Messenger, and the surprise, feel good movie of the year Chef). But the movie that had the most pressure on its shoulders to perform was clearly American Sniper, the final released movie of the year. And while the movie did not exceed my expectations, it certainly met them in every single way. Now before I get into my review of the movie, I do want to make reference to a couple of observations.

The first is that, in my opinion, American Sniper had the most amazing series of trailers in the history of movies. Now that is a massive statement to make, but I firmly believe it. Starting off with the first teaser that showed Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook, Limitless) perched up on top of a roof, scoping out the path of a US military convoy in Iraq. And then a woman comes out with a grenade and he is forced to make the difficult decision with whether to gun her down or not. And then she hands the weapon to a little boy and Kyle's difficult decision instantly becomes an impossible one. And then we are presented with a series of flashbacks that show Kyle falling in love, getting married, with a little baby all while the background music becomes increasingly intense. I've seen this particular trailer over 25 times and still get goosebumps whenever I see it. This was just the first of four trailers, released consecutively about every two weeks, that provided more insight to the story and its lead character and the internal and external battles raging within him. The kicker is the fourth trailer which shows Kyle sitting by himself at a bar. He his on the phone with his wife Taya (Sienna Miller - Foxcatcher, A Case of You). She is upbeat, happy to hear from him. He seems relieved to hear her voice, but he is anything but upbeat. When she asks him where he is, thinking he might be in Germany, he tells her is actually back in the United States. And instantly she wonders why it is not back with her and the kids. The despair shown on Cooper's face as he says, "I guess I just needed a minute." is like nothing you've seen in a trailer before. We know the trauma this character is going through simply through the series of well crafted trailers. It is truly amazing.

My second observation is that director Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Mystic River) needed a big time hit. He's had some big misses recently with some movies that had failed to meet their lofty expectations. The most notable of these are J. Edgar, Hereafter, Invictus, and Changeling. Perhaps these wouldn't have deemed to be so disappointing if he hadn't absolutely knocked it out of the park with movies like Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby, and Mystic River. It had been eight years since his last killer movie and many, including myself, thought that maybe he had forever lost his touch. What a way to tell the public, "Not so fast!". I believe he did deserve a Best Director Academy Award for this movie. I realize that there are only five of those slots, but it is tough seeing a movie nominated for Best Picture and have its director not receive the same nomination. The same thing happened with Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash this year.

I am extremely happy that Bradley Cooper was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award. While David Oyelowo (Selma) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) certainly were also deserving, I think the Academy got it right (outside of Michael Keaton for Birdman, but that is something that I have discussed numerous times on my blog...I have no idea how he even earned a nod, let alone how he is currently the favorite heading into the awards). Of the five actors nominated for Best Actor, four of them played real life characters. The one who didn't was Keaton who basically got to play himself. The other four performances (Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game, Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything, and Steve Carell - Foxcatcher, and Cooper) are all Oscar-worthy. It's a little difficult for me to even distinguish between these four performances because they were all so good. In my opinion, these were definitely the four best performances of the year followed closely by Oyelowo and Gyllenhaal. If any of these four can defeat Keaton on the night of the awards, I will be very happy and he will be my new hero.

So quickly about the story. We go through Kyle's four tours in Iraq. We see him when he his young. We see his motives for becoming a Navy SEAL and serving his country. We see his struggles while overseas and the problems he has acclimating back to society when he is back on the mainland. He is a family man who is deep in his faith  and committed to defending his country. But how can anyone really prepare for the atrocities of war? That was this movie basically comes down to. There is plenty of drama, but it's not short on action either. Is it Lone Survivor meets The Hurt Locker? Kinda/sorta? It has many of the elements of those movies, but this movie stands on its own. It is too early for me to rank these movies and I don't even know if that is something I want to do. All three serve a special place in my heart.

Miller was robbed of a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. The nods went to more established actresses (Patricia Arquette - Boyhood, Laura Dern - Wild, Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game, Emma Stone - Birdman, and Meryl Streep - Into the Woods). The only one of these movies I haven't seen is Into the Woods and the only performance better than Miller's was Arquette's. Arquette is a lock to win this award and that makes me happy. Her performance was head and shoulders better than the other nominees. I will be happy when she is recognized with a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She has an amazing career and Boyhood was her crowning achievement (though if you haven't seen her as Alabama Whitman in the absolutely incredible True Romance, I suggest you do so just as quickly as you can). But back to Miller...she got snubbed. The performances of Knightley and Stone were incomparable to Miller's and the inclusion of Dern in this category, to me, is downright laughable. Miller was amazing as Kyle's torn wife, doing her best to outwardly support her husband while internally going through the normal reactions any wife/husband would go through when their spouse is in a place where they are surrounded by danger 24 hours a day/7 days a week. There is a scene in the middle of the movie where Kaya tells Kyle that she found out the child they are having will be a boy. Suddenly there is an explosion and he loses the phone. The phone connection doesn't go out, but Kyle has dropped the phone. The emotions that Kaya goes through as she hears gunfire, explosions, and yelling overwhelms her. She yells for him into the phone, imagining the worst has happened to him. Her performance here is almost worth the price of admission alone.

Clint Eastwood has yet again proved that age is just a number. What he did in 2003 (Mystic River), 2004 (Million Dollar Baby), and 2005 (Letters From Iwo Jima) was incredible. This was a three year run that gave him three Best Director nominations and one win (Million Dollar Baby). And he did all of this in his mid 70's. To deliver this knockout of a movie in American Sniper at the age of 84 is awe-inspiring. He is dedicated to his craft and has reinvented himself over and over and over throughout his career. He has sort of been a far more successful Robert Redford and I don't mean to take anything from Redford here. It just seems that Eastwood's acting and directorial performances have a little bit more in them than do Redford's.

Plot 10/10
Character Development 10/10 (Cooper's development of Chris Kyle as a carefree rodeo rider/failed farmer to a man who is as proud to serve his country as any man who has ever put on the uniform to a man who is so distraught that he struggles with his decisions to return home to his family after his tours are over)
Character Chemistry 10/10 (though not on screen together a ton, Cooper and Miller dazzle)
Acting 10/10 (Cooper gives a top five overall performance of the year and Miller was most deserving a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award)
Screenplay 10/10
Directing 10/10 (Clint Eastwood, I doubted you would be able to return to your early 2000's form. Thank you for proving me wrong)
Cinematography 10/10
Sound 10/10
Hook and Reel 10/10 (I can't think of a movie in recent memory that gets you so involved so quickly...I hope Eastwood has many years left in his career)
Universal Relevance 10/10 (the story of America's most lethal sniper is a story that I think is one that should be told)
100%

By far, American Sniper is the best movie of the year

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