Movie review: ‘American Sniper’

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘American Sniper': Making a box office statement.

This piece will be dealing solely with American Sniper and its stunning $30.5 million opening day, with the rest of the Friday box office news to be found here. Cooper, 40, who has been nominated for best actor Oscar for his portrayal of lethal Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, said he was initially wracked with anxiety over whether or not he could succeed in the role. “It was a life-changing experience, truthfully.“God, family, country.” After the awkward dysrhythmia of Jersey Boys (a musical with a tin ear for its tunes), Clint Eastwood is back in the saddle with this bleak western-inflected thriller.Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is riding high at the weekend box office where it has already scored $30.5 million on Friday, according to studio estimates.

Going into yesterday, the biggest opening weekend for a movie Clint Eastwood directed and/or starred in is Gran Torino, which opened in wide release in January 2009 with $29.5 million. Adapted from the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a navy Seal (nicknamed “the Legend” – really) who racked up more than 160 confirmed kills as a marksman in Iraq, American Sniper finds Eastwood returning once again to Unforgiven’s thorny themes of guns and retribution in tensely cinematic fashion. Contrino predicts the film could land in record-breaking January territory — the $75-$80 million range — for the weekend. “The word of mouth on this is so incredibly strong. I was nervous, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it,” he said. “There were a lot of sleepless nights early on where I was really overwhelmed with the responsibility.

That the title (taken from the book) should ironically echo Bret Easton Ellis’s satirically vitriolic portrait of male psychosis is appropriate, the film allowing its audience to view Kyle as either hero or villain – or both. Taya Kyle misses the way her husband, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, would hold her close or reach for her hand and make her laugh as they were walking in the Texas countryside. “I was madly in love with him and still am,” Taya tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. Coming out the other side of that was a huge accomplishment and it always makes you stronger, whether you fail or succeed, you gain different things from that,” he added.

Bradley Cooper, who saw this project passed from Steven Spielberg to Eastwood, is understatedly conflicted as Kyle, whom we first meet on a Fallujah rooftop, a woman and child in his rifle sights. Spiralling back to the young marksman’s first kill on a hunting trip, we learn that hesitation is a weakness and hear Kyle’s dad explain that there are only three types of people: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. The biggest R-rated openings of all-time are Hannibal ($58m), 300 ($70m), The Passion of the Christ ($83m Fri-Sun during its $125m Wed-Sun bow) The Hangover part II ($85m Fri-Sun during its $135m Thurs-Mon bow), and The Matrix Reloaded ($91m Fri-Sun during its $134m Thurs-Sun bow).

Yet after the 9/11 attacks, Kyle seems more coyote than collie, his family life collapsing as war takes its toll, only at peace when his killer instinct is in play. Unless I’m forgetting one, the biggest non-comic book, non-fantasy/sci-fi action movie debuts are Fast & Furious 6 ($97.3m), Skyfall ($88.3m), Fast Five ($86.1m), Fast & Furious ($70.9m), Quantum of Solace ($67m), The Bourne Ultimatum ($69m), and Mission: Impossible II ($57.8m). He may have a loving wife (the lately impressive Sienna Miller) at home, but it’s gunfire that puts lead in his pencil; what heavy breathing there is here comes from pre-trigger exhalation, shots fired between heartbeats (after lengthy voyeuristic foreplay), in moments of lethal ecstasy.

If you want to include Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and its $100m Fri-Sun portion of its $150m Thurs-Mon debut, knock yourself out. Truth be told, if it pulls a 3.3x weekend multiplier (similar to Ride Along), it gets to $102m by Monday, but I’m reluctant to presume as much offhand and I cannot rule out the possibility of massive front loading. Perhaps, like Flags of our Fathers (which Eastwood paired with Letters from Iowa Jima), American Sniper needs a more didactic balancing element; Spielberg wanted to expand the role of the Iraqi sniper who becomes Kyle’s nemesis, but Eastwood has stripped things back so that we observe the action through American eyes only, our focus as blinkered as that of its titular killer. There’s sheep, and there’s wolves, and there’s sheepdogs – and their job is to protect the sheep…’ On arriving in Iraq, Kyle quickly found that was he a phenomenal marksman, and that his blood ran ice-cold under pressure.

The Bradley Cooper vehicle went wide this weekend after scorching four-theater per-screen-averages of over $100k p.s.a. for three weekends of limited release starting on Christmas Day. As such, it makes for disturbing viewing, the understandably clumsy closing coda (necessitated by events in 2013) forcing the film finally towards flag-waving endorsement in the face of unfolding tragedy at home. On Feb. 2, 2013, a former Marine whom Chris was trying to helping cope with post traumatic stress disorder allegedly shot and killed Chris and his friend Chad Littlefield, on a Texas gun range. The Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. release even made it seem like even more of an event via asking IMAX to do a lightning-quick conversion for yesterday’s wide release. For years, while her husband – widely regarded as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history – was off fighting insurgents in Iraq, Taya would steel herself when the phone rang.

There is real presence and heft to Cooper’s portrayal; we believe the characterisation, and we understand how the soldiers Kyle watched over from his sniper’s nest came to believe in him. Eastwood’s output over the last few years has been troublesome, and I wondered after Hoover and Jersey Boys whether he had another decent film in him. Even when a local police officer came to her house to tell her the news she had dreaded for years – that her husband had been killed – she says she resisted going to that “dark place” she feared. “I was just focused on what I had learned over the years: don’t go there until you know.” When her girlfriend told her the officer had come to her house to talk to her about Chris, “I thought, ‘I’m going to hear what hospital I’m going to go to,” she says. “But the officer looked at me kind of sad and said, ‘I’m sorry. You don’t have to be an expert box office pundit to see why it is doing as well as it’s doing, although I would have been uncomfortable predicting numbers this big for almost any movie for fear of setting the bar too high.

As I discussed last January when Lone Survivor debuted with $37.8 million, films that unequivocally play to and/or are about people living in so-called flyover country yet are actually released wide enough to be seen by said moviegoers are akin to event movies. And this one, directed by Clint Eastwood, earning mostly decent reviews and the above-noted Oscar buzz, and acting as a rare big-budget war movie that didn’t necessarily rub audiences’ faces in the morality of the specific conflict, well, this one was indeed akin to The Avengers for the specific audience that will eat this up like catnip.

Why can’t they fix Daddy’s heart?’ I try not to be angry too much, but the kids are the ones that got cheated the most.” Chris had been working with screenwriter Jason Hall and Bradley Cooper to bring his story to the big screen when he died. Mr. “We shouldn’t have been over there in the first place!” liberal film critic may have issues with the film’s politics, tin-eared dialogue, and its massaging a true-life biopic into generic action movie cliches (it’s less jingoistic than Lone Survivor, although frankly less interesting than the intriguingly procedural Act of Valor), but it arguably wasn’t made for me.

It’s been a tremendous blessing.” To make sure the filmmakers got her husband’s story right, she opened her heart and her home to Cooper and Eastwood, telling them everything she could about the deadly sniper that Iraqi insurgents called “the Devil of Ramadi,” but who was also giving and loving. “He was a man with a huge heart and charisma and kindness,” she says. “I think the blessing is that Chris really lived. It also means more multiplex films that espouse a political or social viewpoint that I might not necessarily agree with and/or play to demographics that aren’t necessarily in my wheelhouse. For much of the country, it will play as an unapologetic nationalistic action movie that hits all the right buttons and does offer some subtle commentary for those looking for it.

That takes an incredible amount of heart.” She admires Chris for how much pride he took in protecting his fellow soldiers on the battlefield. “I got a medal from a Marine who came home who said, ‘I am here because Chris saved my life, and I have a 2-year-old daughter that I never would have without Chris,’ ” says Taya. “It’s just about protecting each other, watching each other’s back and bringing each other home.” Taya says her family and friends, her faith and her children are helping her to live her life without her husband by her side. While she is preparing for the upcoming capital murder trial of Eddie Ray Routh, the 25-year-old charged with killing Chris and Littlefield, she says giving back is also helping her face her grief.

She founded the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation to help enrich the relationships of military and first responders’ families. “That’s an honor and a privilege to work on,” she says. For now, as always, anytime something that isn’t what you would consider a conventional blockbuster plays like a traditional blockbuster is cause for celebration.

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