Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper enjoyed a fitting Veteran’s Day premiere at AFI Fest last night, resulting in mixed reviews for Eastwood and the movie itself, but undisputed praise for the film’s hero, Bradley Cooper. Based on the autobiography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Cooper), who accumulated 160 confirmed kills as a sniper throughout four tours in Iraq, Eastwood treats the film as an intimate character study and look into the making of a hero. In this format, audiences agree that Cooper shines.
Outside of dialogue and plot, in a screenplay adapted by Jason Dean Hall (2013’s forgettable Paranoia), the bulk of the camera work rests solely on the face of Kyle, where Cooper delivers a subtle and convincing portrayal of a complicated hero struggling with both the immediate and moral repercussions of each target. It seems a clear Oscar campaign tactic that the film premiered on an American holiday celebrating veterans, with a movie paying tribute to one in particular. It is Cooper’s no-frills performance, however, that is receiving the most attention, and which will very likely garner him his third Best Actor nomination in three years, following David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.
The reception for Eastwood’s direction, on the other hand, has polarized critics thus far. While several agree that American Sniper could very well be the 84-year-old director’s greatest achievement to date, others feel that his perspective ultimately falls flat. The main misgiving for the film lies in Eastwood’s sole reliance and focus on Kyle’s character to carry a story that should have portrayed a wider real-world scope, both ideologically and geopolitically. Many also point to a lack of depth in the film’s secondary characters – namely Kyle’s fellow comrades and wife, the latte played by Sienna Miller (Factory Girl) – in short sequences of home life, only affording true humanity and arc to Kyle as each potential kill weighs heavily on his thoughts. With glowing praise for Cooper’s performance, however, as well as a general admiration for the minimalist and intense score, the film will likely be noticed by the Academy for its accomplishment as a character study alone, giving Eastwood a solid chance at a third Best Director win after 1993’s Unforgiven and 2005’s Million Dollar Baby.
American Sniper is slated for a worldwide release on Januray 16, 2015. Check out the trailer here.