A Navy SEAL recounts his military career, which includes more than 150 confirmed kills.
Clint Eastwood's 'American Sniper' is a wonderful movie that has sadly been disparaged by some due to the misguided opinion that Eastwood made a propaganda film that supports war or that its subject matter, Chris Kyle, wasn't worthy of being praised because of potentially false claims he made both in his autographical book (upon which this movie is both named and partially based) as well as other statements he made during his post-military years. To hinge one's opinion of this movie on such reasons is only robbing oneself, as Eastwood's purpose here is to show the effect of war on a soldier. Kyle is the conduit for this tale, but the bigger picture here is that what Kyle goes through has happened to a lot of soldiers in a lot of different wars.
Chris Kyle was reportedly the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, so it's perhaps appropriate that Eastwood opens his movie with Kyle (Bradley Cooper) in Iraq having to make the decision whether a young boy and his mother are a threat or not…and whether to pull the trigger. Before we learn the choice that Kyle makes, the film flashes back to show us Kyle growing up and the seeds that turned him into the man he would eventually become. We learn of his desire to protect those he cares about, his love for country, and both his Navy SEAL training and his courtship and marriage to his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller).
When Kyle is in Iraq, he seems like a man in his element – thriving on the danger that is almost constantly surrounding him. However, when he returns home between his tours of duty, Kyle can't seem to cope. He doesn't know how to interact with others, and continually feels the draw to return to combat (Kyle would eventually serve a stunning four tours of duty during the Iraq War before leaving the military). Eventually, he finds his niche at home by helping others who have been injured in combat…sadly, a service that would lead to his own tragic end, which Eastwood smartly decides not to show in his movie, instead providing that information in the film's moving coda.
'American Sniper's success depends almost completely on its star, Bradley Cooper, who gives what I believe is his best performance to date in this movie (one for which he obtained his third-straight Best Actor nomination). In addition to packing on about 50 lbs. worth of weight and muscle to look more like Kyle, Cooper does a fantastic job of making the viewer believe he actually is the subject of the movie, not just through dialogue, but through physicality, not the least of which is the 1,000-yard stare he often gets in his eyes that reflect some of the horror and psychological scars of what his country has tasked him to do as a soldier.
'American Sniper' is still not a perfect film, however. Eastwood's shooting style often causes corners to be cut, the most publicized of these, of course, being the fake baby he uses during one scene. While that bit of cinema only accounts for less than 10 seconds of screen time, I had a slightly bigger issue with the way Taya Kyle's character was written – as she's asked to do little more in this movie than play the worried wife who is always complaining that her husband isn't devoting enough time to his family. While that certainly may reflect reality in the case of Ms. Kyle, we've seen that character in dozens of other movies like this one, and – as a result – actress Sienna Miller isn't given a whole lot to do in what amounts to a rather one-note character and performance.
But despite some minor quibbles, 'American Sniper' proves to be a powerful movie with a lot to say about the effect of war on a human being's psyche and soul. That Eastwood's movie doesn't provide any easy answers to how we might fix these problems for future soldiers is part of the movie's appeal as well. Like all great films, it uses what may appear on its surface to be a gung-ho piece of entertainment to pose deeper questions about what draws men to war and what damage can be done to them in the process. It's a moving piece of work from one of America's best directors.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'American Sniper' launches its tour on home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The dual-layer DVD and 50GB Blu-ray are housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which also contains an insert with a code for an UltraViolet copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop the case. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are front loaded with trailers for 'San Andreas' and 'Mad Max: Fury Road'. The DVD also contains trailers for the upcoming 'Entourage' feature film and Run All Night, plus an anti-tobacco ad. The main menu of the Blu-ray has the standard Warners' design, with a still of Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle against a solid white background, with menu options running across the bottom of the screen.
In addition to this combo pack release, there are a few other retailer exclusives floating around out there if you can find them. Target is offering up a steelbook version of this release, while Best Buy is offering both an alternate slipcover as well as a bonus featurette on the Blu-ray disc. Wal-Mart is also providing instant viewing via their Vudu app (meaning you can watch the movie prior to release day); however, since the digital code included supports Vudu, the Wal-Mart bonus really only has value prior to the Blu-ray being available.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
Director Clint Eastwood shot 'American Sniper' digitally, using Arri Alexa equipment, which results in a stunning and crystal-clear transfer by Warners to Blu-ray. The level of detail here is just fantastic, from every scuff and scratch on the military weaponry being used, to the wrinkles and creases on the soldiers' faces themselves. Eastwood is a fast-working director, meaning his scenes aren't exactly always framed for aesthetic appeal, so while 'American Sniper' might not be the most beautiful-looking movie you've ever watched, there's no denying that this is an outstanding transfer.
There are a number of nighttime action sequences in the movie, not to mention a few locales that aren't that well-lit. Thankfully, black levels here are strong and deep, and viewers won't have any trouble discerning shadows. Even the climatic sandstorm that takes place at the conclusion of the movie (in which viewers aren't supposed to make out things) shows a level of detail that I didn't expect to see with this Blu-ray. Fans of the movie are going to be quite happy with what they get here.
For those few out there who have made the leap to Dolby Atmos, I'm happy to report that Warners has provided this release of 'American Sniper' with a 7.1 Dolby Atmos track. Sadly, I'm not yet (and probably not ever) Atmos-equipped, so the audio was down-mixed to Dolby TrueHD 7.1. No matter what set-up you're listening to this track on, however, it sounds simply fantastic. From the rumbling of tanks, to the exchange of gunfire, to the swooping of helicopters, the audio for 'American Sniper' provides a distinct and immersive presentation that will envelope viewers/listeners in the action.
The audio mix is also extremely well done, as despite all the sounds of war that occur in many of the movie's sequences, dialogue is never drown out and is always understandable. In addition to great separation throughout, there's a great deal of directionality going on as well – bullets whizzing from one speaker to another, helicopters doing the same, etc. Even if one doesn't have Atmos in their home theater to enjoy, there's no doubt this is a reference-quality track and a lot of fun to listen to.
In addition to the lossless Atmos audio, the Blu-ray also provides a 5.1 English Descriptive Audio track, a French 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus track, as well as 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in Spanish and Portuguese. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Director Clint Eastwood is back in the saddle with 'American Sniper', perhaps his best film in a decade. Highlighted by a wonderful performance by Bradley Cooper in the lead role, this pro-soldier movie still has very much an anti-war feeling to it (despite what you've heard from other critics). While the extras on this release are somewhat slim, the reference-quality A/V and the entertainment value of the movie itself make this one worth adding to your collection. Highly Recommended.