Lets get the meta-analysis out of the way. This is a war movie. Stop analyzing it. It’s a bunch of idealists with guns going to a foreign country, killing a lot of people, and then wondering why they don’t feel good. Like I said, a war movie. Lets move on.
It’s a good war movie. Undoubtedly the best one about the Iraq War. But does that make it a good movie? A movie, just like any story, is good because it tugs on your emotions. American Sniper does not tug, or snipe. It takes a machine gun and blasts them apart. There’s a lot of death, and blood splatters, and shock value, and slow-motion flag waving with a lone bugle playing in the background. You will cry. Maybe you like that. I didn’t. Crying is fine, emotional manipulation I accept, but when it’s done by killing a lot of Iraqis, there I have a problem. The mere fact this sort of movie is seen as entertainment, I find offensive. And yes, American Sniper is entertainment, or at least tried to be. It’s big budget Hollywood fluff. He doesn’t even have a cover on his scope. It’s absurd to the point of comedy.
I wanted to like it, I really did, but American Sniper is so full of shock value and horror and death it’s impossible to use critical analysis. As soon as you start thinking, any value disintegrates as into a sandstorm. There’s a scene where a Bad Guy uses a drill to kill a little kid. It’s awful. Bad Guys (capitol G) are swarming out of a van directly into enemy fire, and people in the audience started laughing. Laughing. At guys getting machine gunned down. Is this a video game? The mere fact that some people treat it as such negates any respect I might give it. Those same people cheered when the opposing enemy sniper died. Cheering. At death. They were probably thinking “America, Fuck Yeah!”. I was thinking “How do you make a 2,000 yrd shot in an approaching sandstorm?”
As for the Oscar nod, I don’t see it. The directing, that is, the technical aspects of telling a visual story, was atrocious. It was supposed to be a sniper duel. Instead its endless scenes of people running around yelling and blood spatters and soldiers with Predator comic book symbols on them. Now someone is dying in surgery. Then suddenly we are in America and she’s telling him he’s got something wrong with him. Telling. Not showing. It’s George W. Bush era propaganda, a war movie about what we want a war movie to be. Shock for subtlety. Ambushes for angles. No cleverness, or originality, or the things that an Oscar should be.
Yes, Bradley Cooper did a great job acting. But when he dramatically takes off his helmet front-and-camera-center in a war zone, or pulls out his satelite phone in the middle of a firefight and makes a tearful call to his wife, I don’t really care how good the acting is when what you’re doing is ridiculous. Yeah, there was one good scene at the end where he’s crying in a bar. It doesn’t make up for the banality of his character who honestly seems like a simpleton. To quote him when asked to explain his motivations: “God, Country, Family”. Give me a break.
Yes, the visuals were impressively realistic but A) this was Hollywood big budget meaning they just hired a thousand extras and rented out a real bombed-out city somewhere in the middle east and when you think about it that way its not so impressive and B) when you’re talking about blood spatters or a desert or a city in ruins, it doesn’t matter how realistic it is, it’s still terrible or tragic or uninteresting.
American Sniper would have been good if it hadn’t been about Chris Kyle. If it hadn’t pretended to be realistic. If it had just been about some fictional sniper having some fictional sniper duel in some fictional war, and everyone watching it took it as a blood-spattered horror movie, it would have been fine. I would have given it an A-. Instead, people confuse it with the real Chris Kyle who sounds like he was kind of psychotic. They confuse it with the immoral Iraqi War. They confuse two minutes of crying or staring blankly at the TV as Post-Traumatic Stress. And because of that, I have to hold this movie to a higher standard.