Genre: War Drama
Running Time: 132 mins.
Premise: Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most lethal sniper in U.S. history with over 160 kills, serves four tours of duty in Iraq where he's considered a legend on the battlefield, but struggles at home where his time in battle takes a toll on him.
Behind-the-Scenes: Steven Spielberg was originally slated to direct with Cooper still attached, but backed out to pursue other projects. Clint Eastwood took over directing duties. This is his second film of the year, after this summer's tepidly-received Jersey Boys. The film is based on the bestselling book co-written by Kyle. Kyle's wife, Taya, played by Sienna Miller, has faced real-life struggles in court over inaccuracies in the book, including Kyle's claim that he punched out Jesse Ventura. He didn't. The movie just scored $105 million at the box office over its four-day opening weekend, a new record for January. Received 6 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The Good: Bradley Cooper. He's been associated with the project for some time now, and put everything he had into the role. His meticulous preparation shows. He gives a very lived-in performance, both physically (he's huge here), vocally (his Texas accent is spot-on), and emotionally (he nails Kyle's detachment). The script does a fine job balancing Kyle's tours of duty with his home life, though it's the moments when he's home that prove more interesting. Eastwood seems to be working slightly outside of his comfort zone here, and tries to inject some tension into the war sequences.
The Bad: It's still an Eastwood movie, which means slack pacing, the same old minimalist piano-plunking score he uses for all of his films, and lack of urgency. The marketing department did a fantastic job with the trailers (so intense!), but the movie doesn't live up to the promise of them. Not by a long shot. The script lacks a cohesive theme and never takes a point-of-view on anything. Apart from Cooper, there's an air of phoniness that permeates the whole movie. War scenes are clearly staged, rather than captured in the moment. There's a scene between Chris and Taya where they pass around a lifeless doll which is meant to be their baby. Kyle has to face off against another expert sniper, who, naturally, is his equal in almost every way, and their face-off gets a bit ridiculous as it goes along. Miller hits all the notes she should as Taya, but they seem forced - she was much better in a smaller wife role in Foxcatcher. Lacks a satisfying ending, and not as moving as you might expect. I'd love to have seen Spielberg's version of this. Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, Captain Phillips) also probably would have knocked it out of the park.
Should You See It?: Depends. Best Picture nominee completists have to see it. If you've read the book, or have a personal interest or connection to the subject matter, then you'll probably like it. But some perspective is needed here: it is NOT an "amazing" or "stunning" or "incredible" film, as I've heard some proclaim. At best, it's a good movie made great by your own personal connection, rather than the actual execution.
Star Rating: **1/2 out of 5 stars.
Better Than: The Monuments Men, Act of Valor, Jersey Boys
Worse Than: The Hurt Locker, Lone Survivor, Fury
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