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American Sniper (2014)
Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/19/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/7/2015
How many movies have been made about World War II? A million? More? And have any of those questioned the politics of that war? I'm sure that there are some (there are always dissenters), but I would assume that most agree that the Axis powers had to be stopped. You don't have to be a film historian to know that most American World War II films were meant to rouse patriotism and support of the war. It wasn't until the Vietnam War that movies began to have strong messages about the conflicts they were portraying. When it comes to movies concerning any American military involvement in the Middle East since the early 90s, you definitely get a political slant, most of which question it. This raises the question, can a movie offer a balanced view of what has gone on in Iraq or Afghanistan? American Sniper gives it a try.
American Sniper tells the story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). Growing up in Texas, Chris tried to make it as a rodeo cowboy. At age 30, after seeing a news story about a terrorist attack, he decided to join the Navy and pursue becoming a Navy SEAL. During his training, where he excelled as a marksman, he met Taya (Sienna Miller), and they were soon married. Following the events to September 11, 2001, Chris is shipped to Iraq where he serves as a sniper. While he isn't involved in the dangerous sweeps that his fellows soldiers conduct, Chris is often faced with split-second decisions to shoot potentially threatening people. The film follows Chris as he goes through four tours of duty. During this time, he and Taya had two children, but Chris is never home to see them. When he does come home, he is often jumpy and haunted by every noise he hears. As the war progresses, Chris becomes more daring in his actions, and yet longs to go home.
During its opening weekend in wide release, American Sniper made $89 million, making it an instant smash hit. It would go on to bring in nearly $350 million in the United States alone, becoming Director Clint Eastwood's biggest hit after 44 years behind the camera. Immediately a question overtook Hollywood -- Why was this film light years more successful than any other movie about the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. Even the Oscar winning The Hurt Locker only made $17 million. The common theory was that due to Eastwood's well-known conservative leanings (which even included him talking to empty chairs), like-minded individuals flocked to the film. Others were drawn to the film as Kyle's life and death had already drawn national attention. (The film is based on Kyle's autobiography.) Of course, I'm sure that the presence of Cooper didn't hurt. Either way, it was easy to assume that one would be walking into a pro-war movie.
And while I'm certain that the movie could be read that way, I found that American Sniper was fairly honest in its depiction of war, although I cannot comment on how close it remained to Kyle's real life. At the outset, Kyle is portrayed as an idealistic patriot -- he joins the Navy in order to defend freedom. Once in combat, he finds his job to be extremely challenging ethically. Kyle was an incredibly skilled marksman and became well-known amongst the troops for his kills, but some of the shots were a tough choice. Kyle also proves himself to be a believer in fairness, as he joins the street fight instead of simply lying on a roof. As the war progresses, he feels obligated to return to battle, although it takes him away from his family. During his final battle, he decides that he's done with the fight. The movie portrays how his colleagues died and it doesn't shy away from showing veterans who lost limbs. When Kyle is home, he jumps at every noise and easily loses his temper. The movie definitely shows the price which soldiers pay.
But this leaves us with the question, is American Sniper a good movie? Well, yes and no. Obviously, Eastwood is a skilled director and he does a fine job of telling the story. The battle sequences are well done and there are some suspenseful moments where Kyle is deciding whether or not to shoot someone. And while these scenes are impressive, they aren't that different from similar moments in other movies. Where American Sniper drops the ball is that it doesn't focus enough on Kyle's time at home. I found the PTSD aspects of the story to be far more interesting, as not only do we not see this portrayed in a realistic fashion enough in movies, it also helped to humanize Kyle. Kyle was a hero who saved his fellow soldiers on numerous occasions, but the war also caused changes in him and more of this would have helped the movie.
There's no doubt that American Sniper has become a cultural phenomenon. And while people are busy debating the movie's message or whether or not it should have been a hit, they are ignoring the fact that it is a competently made, but somewhat hollow film. Cooper is clearly dedicated to the role, as his Texas accent is incomprehensible at times, and the cast is chock full of recognizable faces. (Evan Chambers is a soldier?) The movie is certainly worth seeing and viewers will be able to paint their own political views on it, but try not to forget that a man died in a very unfortunate event -- this is the one thing that the movie truly ignores.
American Sniper made me wonder where I could get a robot baby on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only mild grain and no defects from the source materials. Given that much of the film takes place in the washed out landscape of the battlefield, the image could have shown much more grain, but it comes across as crisp. The picture is never overly dark or bright, and what few bold colors we get look fine. There is an impressive amount of detail here and the depth really adds to the action sequences. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects during the battle scenes are very impressive. The sound moves easily from side-to-side and front-to-back, immersing the viewer in the scene. The explosions and gunfire bring in the subwoofer adding even more depth.
The American Sniper Blu-ray Disc contains only two extra features. "One Soldier's Story: The Journey of American Sniper" (31 minutes) is a very in-depth look at the making of the film, beginning with Screenwriter Jason Hall's visit to Texas to meet Chris Kyle. We learn that when Eastwood came on-board, Kyle had already been killed, so they worked with his widow. The piece then looks at the film's production, focusing on the combat scenes and the training involved. We get a slew of interviews and on-set footage here. "The Making of American Sniper" (29 minutes) is very similar to the previous piece, as it contains some of the same interviews and same footage. The first piece felt like a documentary, while this feels like a commercial.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long