Blu-ray Review: American Sniper

By , Contributor
Director Clint Eastwood hit pay dirt with the mega-smash American Sniper, a gritty biopic about the late, real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. In this age of increasingly homogenized, CG-heavy tent-pole pictures, it’s rather refreshing to be reminded that a modestly budgeted, adult-oriented drama can still find a mass audience. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has issued American Sniper on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. The technical specs are truly impressive, with Oscar-nominated (for 2008’s Changeling, not this film) cinematographer Tom Stern’s visuals looks absolutely pristine in 1080p high definition. Of its six Oscar nominations, the only one it took home was for Best Sound Editing. Those with Atmos-equipped systems will be able to take full advantage of the Blu-ray’s audio capability. For the rest of us, the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 will have to suffice—and it’s an outstanding, richly detailed mix.

In other words, from a technical standpoint there’s a great deal to admire about Sniper. Eastwood’s movie is impeccably produced. His intentions are in the right place, too. But a distinction must be made between the real Chris Kyle and this adaptation of his life. We’re not watching a documentary, of course, and the job of Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall (both nominated for Oscars) is to mold Kyle’s career and life story into a compelling film. Over the course of two hours and 13 minutes, they don’t quite do so. And that’s not to take a thing away from the real Kyle’s accomplishments during his four tours of duty during the Iraq War during which he proved himself the most efficient sniper in U.S. military history. That’s not to take anything away from all the lives of U.S. troops that Kyle saved by eliminated insurgents. And it’s certainly not meant to take away from the tragic circumstances of Chris Kyle’s death at age 38, murdered by a young vet who Kyle was attempting to help deal with PTSD. The problems with the filmed adaptation stem largely from its stop-and-start, disjointed narrative.

AS20 (380x159).jpg Chris Kyle is portrayed by Bradley Cooper, whose movie star sheen disappears in this intense, deeply felt performance. Cooper brings a palpable sense of urgency, never more apparent than during combat sequences. Through no fault of Cooper’s, the film falters whenever it shifts into depicting Kyle’s non-professional life. We see his formative years with his disciplinarian father explaining to Chris and his brother the three types of people in the world (sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs). We see him learning to hunt, developing the marksmanship skills that would help him excel in his chosen profession later in life. While these formative experiences are at least tangibly related to Kyle’s military duties, his romantic life is handled in shakier fashion. When a young adult, pre-military Kyle returns home from a rodeo, he catches his girlfriend in the act with another man. He throws her out immediately, but it’s honestly unclear why we needed to see this episode.

Taya Renae Kyle, Chris’ wife, is played by Sienna Miller but there’s really not much of a character for her to dig into. Miller is fine in the role, but it feels as if she’s been asked to play a stock character—the long-suffering wife who must accept that her husband’s career comes first. Jason Hall’s screenplay apparently took some liberties with the source memoir of the same name, penned by Chris Kyle (with Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice). I’ve not read it so I’m not commented on any specifics. But perhaps a good documentary about Kyle would be the superior way to learn about his life. Beyond the combat-related scenes, the film is at its best as it details the difficult adjustment period Kyle underwent as he struggled with the transition to post-military life following his 2009 honorable discharge. But ultimately Eastwood doesn’t manage to achieve the type of depth he’s clearly after.

Of the Blu-ray’s limited extras, “One Soldier's Story: The Journey of American Sniper” is the best. It’s a half-hour look at the process the filmmakers underwent in bringing Chris Kyle’s story to the big screen. Also running about a half-hour, “The Making of American Sniper” is not as successful, seeing as it feels more like a typical EPK-style piece. For whatever reasons, those are the only special features included.

Warner Bros.’ American Sniper Blu-ray Combo Pack also includes a standard DVD and a downloadable Digital HD copy.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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