How Clint Eastwood's 'American Sniper' Aims True But Misses The Mark [Movie Review]

Editor's Note: This review originally ran on November 12. We're bumping it up now that American Sniper is in wide release.

Director Clint Eastwood has great aspirations for American Sniper. First and foremost, he hopes to make a movie paying tribute to the most deadly sniper in the history of the United States. That's the late Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper. He also hopes to show Kyle not as only a heroic solider, but a complex man confident in his actions and concerned about of their results. The film paints a grim picture of post-traumatic stress disorder and what it does to our veterans, especially in regards to their families. Finally, there's also a drive to keep things exciting, so there are many gun battles in the deserts of Iraq.

Yes, American Sniper is an incredibly ambitious film with many moving parts. All of those parts work in certain instances, but only on rare occasions do they all come together at once. The disconnection makes the film fall just short of those great aspirations.

American Sniper had its World Premiere on Veterans Day at AFI Fest presented by Audi and you can read the rest of our review below.

The Trailer Tells the Story

Much of what works and doesn't about American Sniper is in the very first scene. It's the trailer scene. That tense moment where Chris Kyle (Cooper) has to decide, on his own, whether or not a woman and child need to die. The tension is palpable and just at the moment of truth, the film cuts. For the next 45 minutes we see Chris Kyle as a boy, then a man. Eventually we meet Chris Kyle, the solider. Cooper has a steadfast likeablity in these scenes and it's a good set up to get us ready for everything that follows. Still, it's a long detour to eventually get back to that great scene.

A Legend Is Born and Family Is Everything

Once the film gets back to that opening, it moves on with Kyle's time as a Navy SEAL sniper. Very quickly, he develops a reputation as "The Legend," a man wanted by the enemy and adored by all soldiers. Despite all the violence and carnage, Kyle takes to this role well, developing a close relationships with many of his fellow soldiers. When he goes home, however, we begin to see the cracks in that version of Kyle we met in the first act. War has changed him. It seems, in fact, that he's more at home at the war. Cooper gets better as the film goes along, playing Kyle right in the increasingly large divide between deadly killer and loving husband.

However, for a while the film forgets that Kyle wife's Taya, played by Sienna Miller, even exists. It's just kind of a tempered action war movie. Finally, there's a scene where Taya and Chris talk on the phone and all hell breaks loose, fusing these two stories together once again. In moments like this one, Eastwood shows the full spectrum of Kyle's plight. His soldiers need him but so does his family. That conflict becomes what the movie is about for the second half.

Many Great Scenes, Little Cohesion

Even when the film isn't fulfilling the full promise of its potential, Eastwood's approach makes for compelling drama. A scene back home where Kyle is recognized is drenched in meaning. Every time Kyle goes back to Iraq for another tour – something guilt drives him to do again and again – the action gets more intense and effective as the personnel losses continue to mount. Several scenes involving the birth of his children clearly display that this man is heroic and caring, but also unable to reconcile the horrors he's lived with a regular life.

There's also the fact while there are a handful of compelling sniper scenes, mostly at the beginning and end of the film, the majority of American Sniper doesn't show Kyle as a sniper. He's a fearless leader on the hunt for some key Al Qaeda assets, but he does this from the ground, not the rooftops. This makes the unique premise set up at the beginning of the film into something a bit more recognizable.

The Verdict

American Sniper works, but never works perfectly. There are moments and scenes where the scope of Eastwood's vision come into focus, but for the most part it is comprised of many good elements that don't quite fit together. There's no doubt the film is a worthy tribute to Chris Kyle and represents some of the best work of Bradley Cooper's career. It's merely an above-average effort from Eastwood.

/Film rating: 7 out of 10