American Sniper

American Sniper Poster

Now, I’ve seen a good number of movies in my time, and I fully admit that I’m probably a little jaded, but I can’t be the only one frustrated by the insurmountable arduousness of this whole Oscar season in general and American Sniper specifically. The professional news sources will tell you that Mr. Eastwood’s latest opus has broken all kinds of box office records and has made more money that God at this point; but after having put quite a bit of thought into my review of the film, I honestly couldn’t tell you why. It irks me that original and imaginative movies like Birdman only end up raking in a fraction of the cash that something like American Sniper does, but that’s people for you—forever loath to get out of their tiny comfort zones.

Clint Eastwood is a very old man—he’s eighty-four, according to Wikipedia—and it seems to me that a lot of his later work, and American Sniper specifically, is mired in a lot of really uncomfortable old-world machismo and outdated nationalism which manifests itself and a weirdly earnest “us vs. them” mentality that seems singularly out of place in this Web 2.0 world. Eastwood’s actual technical direction isn’t as much at fault as the writing is, which usually what it comes down to with these kinds of things. Weirdly, a lot of the special effects in the film look laughably fake, and I’m reminded specifically of one sequence in which Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller are trying to have a serious exchange, but they’re very clearly handling a fake Fisher-Price baby; and I’m sitting in the theater all the while, barely stifling laughter.

Cooper, playing real-life American sniper Chris Kyle (whose biography inspired the film), does a pretty fair job, though as I mentioned before, a lot of the problems I found with the movie stem from the protagonist coming across as a bit of a bully and more than a little dense, which proved problematic as the film progressed, as Cooper’s was of course the character the audience was meant to identify with. Cooper is joined by a host of more or less low-key actors, who all give serviceable performances, though playing the gritty, emotionally detached soldier is probably one of the easier jobs as far as acting goes.

This particular review will probably be a little more subjective than normal—you know, since usually my reviews are models of level-headedness and non-partisanship—but the problem that one runs into a lot of the time with character driven films like American Sniper is that the success of the movie lives or dies on whether or not the audience can connect to the protagonist. I had the same problem with David O. Russell’s 2012 film Silver Linings Playbook, also starring Cooper. It wasn’t a terrible movie, per se, but the fact that I found the main character almost totally un-relatable was what killed it for me, and I think the same idea applies to this film as well.

Apart from having a rather dull protagonist, the film mostly consists of a series of factual events from the life of Chris Kyle, occasionally spiced up with some classic Hollywood sensationalism. While the aforementioned nationalistic pride is certainly there, I think the Eastwood may have missed an opportunity to make a broader connection in the form of Kyle’s role in a much larger and increasingly ambiguously defined conflict. It’s pretty obvious the American Sniper wants to be something like The Hurt Locker, but the fact that if writer Jason Hall had entertained even for a moment the idea that his writing ability is on par with that of someone like Oscar-winner Mark Boal, then he’s got another thing coming.

Despite the earth-shattering commercial success of the film, I mostly found it pretty lacking. Maybe that’s my inborn desire to be contrary about everything speaking, but I really feel that the majority has really missed the mark on this one. I’ve seen good war movies, and I’ve seen bad war movies, and I’ve seen shocking war movies, and I’ve seen emotional war movies, but American Spectrum falls right off the spectrum, right into the pit where the downright bland and mediocre war movies reside, hopefully never to see the light of day again.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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As of Yet Unnamed Simply Film Podcast: The Place Beyond the Pines


 
This Week: Gabriel Vogel, Joe Holley, Albert Cantu, and Andrew King

Show Notes:

What We’ve Been Watching: 0:00 – 23:15

The Place Beyond the Pines Review: 23:16- 45:44

The Place Beyond the Pines Review

THE-PLACE-BEYOND-THE-PINES-Poster

 

Returning to the director’s chair after his hit indie film Blue Valentine, with The Place Beyond the Pines Derek Cianfrance proves that he can be considered a truly great, new director. A sprawling two and half hour long epic, The Place Beyond the Pines is a story in three parts that delves into themes of morality, determinism, and closely examines the effects fathers have on their children, and visa-versa. This film is an emotional powerhouse, with a fantastic performance from Ryan Gosling, as well as strong performances all around. Expecting to dislike this movie, I was absolutely blown away by the film.

The film takes place in the small New York town of Schenectady, which interestingly enough is a name loosely taking from a Mohawk word that translates to “Place Beyond the Pines.” The movie first centers on Ryan Gosling as “Handsome” Luke Glanton, a professional and heavily tattooed motorcycle rider who goes city to city with a traveling carnival. However he gives this life up when he is informed that a woman he has slept with in Schenectady is raising his now one year old son. Luke turns to a life of crime and starts robbing banks in order to provide for his newly born son. Bradley Cooper’s character Avery, a police man and moral paragon, is then introduced and the film shifts its focus to a tale of police corruption and Avery’s struggle with it. Finally, the third and most interesting act of the film is about the friendship and conflict between the sons of the earlier protagonists, as they struggle with their respective relationships with their fathers, as well as dealing with the history between Luke and Avery.

While much of the talk about this film has been glowing praise for Ryan Gosling (let’s be honest here, this is nothing new, he’s great), the acting all around is pretty excellent. Specifically, Eva Mendes’s portrayal of Luke Glanton’s poverty stricken baby mama is a step away from her usual roles, as well as a highlight of the film. However, some of the best acting in the film comes from Dane DeHaan, who is likely best known as the lead in last year’s found footage superhero flick, Chronicle. As Luke’s 17 year old son, DeHaan is tragic and compelling, bringing a much needed emotional center to the latter half of the film.

What makes this film achieve a level of excellence, however, is not the acting but rather the thematic through lines of the film. The film is ambitious in its approach to tackling issues of paternal relationships, as well as morality, which raises an interesting conversation about how morality relates to cultural standards and laws. At the same time, the film does a perfect job of not overextending thematically, by which I mean the film doesn’t try to tackle anything that was too lofty to wrap up by the end. This movie leaves the viewer with a desire to ponder the films themes, without leaving any serious unanswered questions. It’s a hugely emotional film, as well as a film with just the perfect amount of depth. I could not recommend this film more highly.

Rating: 5 out of 5