Bradley Cooper is on point as SEAL Chris Kyle

SEALs Sniper Chris Kyle is given an honorific in cinema form, celebrating a soldier of four tours and a kill count reaching triple digits. American Sniper is a fascinating portrait of a trained killer – trained in a belief system which creates an unsettling addiction to violence.

The framing device for Kyle’s story is of a sniper war, a barely identified insurgent, “Mustafa,” versus the uncanny accuracy of Kyle. However, American Sniper frequently reverts back home, peering at Kyle’s unsteady civilian life as the sights and sounds of Middle Eastern tours mentally weigh on his psyche. His wife Taya (Sienna Miller) begins American Sniper’s dissent into worn gender roles, Taya portrayed as a women who exists to have children and cry as she supports her husband. There is no other depth to her existence as a character. In similarity, Mustafa never speaks nor is he given more purpose. He exists as a target.

Kyle’s story is controversial. As a child, Kyle’s father is depicted as raising him on paranoia while re-assuring outbursts of aggression. The feature swells with right-wing imagery – guns, God, and Bible, all dressed in flags, either American or Texas. Clint Eastwood directs and his leanings are clear. Therein is where American Sniper slips into propaganda, so artificially intense as to never build an enemy. They only exist to kill, even the children.

So often the camera whips between scenarios. Street level gunmen are killed before an edit snaps into a place with a suicide bomber rushing toward the troops with a car, a cut nearing satire. It is image after image after image of sweeping decisiveness. American Sniper is not a movie of understanding despite the story being constructed on the pretenses of a knowingly false war.

American Sniper defines Chris Kyle more by the nameless people he killed rather than a troubled but then righted family man.

Kyle is a hero. He saved many. He was also complex, an example of successful mental rehabilitation after the tragic cost of conflict. That’s important. American Sniper makes it appear easy, even exciting. That’s wrong. Kyle’s final mission is draped in a sand storm with impossible odds, absolutely effective drama… and all too rich a recruitment tool. Eastwood’s film does concern the post-war realities; Kyle’s urges to fight and their strain are unmistakable. Yet, it peers into Kyle’s life mostly with actions rather that words, directness rather than subtly. As a piece of entertainment, rarely is American Sniper brave. It’s conventional.

The adventurous decision in American Sniper is to keep the score inactive. Shoot-outs pierce the air with limited (if any) orchestral assistance. The rest is contemporary war cinema, images of the World Trace Center collapsing, justification, and then gunfire. American Sniper defines Chris Kyle more by the nameless people he killed rather than a troubled but then righted family man. Soldiers kill. Kyle killed many. But, believing a number defines who he was seems like such a partial definition. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

Sandstorm approaching @ 1:40:20

Muted into a series of parched oranges and greens, most of American Sniper jumps between these monotone colors. They rarely intersect. Scenes on foreign soil pick one or the other. Flesh tones are obviously impacted. On the homefront, primaries slip in, still muted if carrying a touch more weight. Blues, reds, and yellows tend to stand out when amongst these adjoining parts of the story. Digital coloring work creates definitive separation.

Resolution produces some deep images of war torn lands, with buildings reaching toward the horizon line. There is no softening to consider. Those establishing shots are marvelous. In close, things are not so consistent. Facial detail comes and goes. When it’s lost, fidelity is covered with a notably digital smoothness. In this case, problems lie in the original cinematography. Were this Warner’s encode, it would be doubtful to see the issue so inconsistently. When the disc is precise, detail swirls throughout the image. At one point, a small fleet of computer screens pumping tactical data can be seen (and in most cases read) with some distance.

A chunk of American Sniper is forced into darkness. Raids are performed at night, requiring ample black levels. They’re provided. Shadow detail is preserved and depth excels. There is no loss of image density. True black is achieved regularly. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

Atmos or TrueHD 7.1 – either way, American Sniper’s dedication to preserving battlefield authenticity is tremendous. Gunfire is precise, laid out dramatically through the soundfield to maintain an active fight. Even in dialog scenes, shots ring out in the distance. Nothing feels fabricated. Each shot (especially sniper rounds) hang thickly in the air with a drop into the LFE.

The war is posed with helicopters overhead, opening with the engines of a tank hammering the sub. Dialog is well traveled, stereos or otherwise. All elements are well considered.

To close, a sandstorm rolls in, this in addition to the heaviest fighting of the film. The mixture is a flurry of activity, maintained in balance without any prioritization problems. Audio mixing feels genuine and earnest, worthy of the Oscar nomination/win this track would produce. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]

For all of the political hubbub over the movie, the two bonuses feel particularly defensive. One Soldier’s Story (31 minutes) follows Kyle’s story with Eastwood in particular standing out by claiming the piece to be apolitical. A making of (28:35) is generic and overstuffed with critics quotes and finished clips. At an hour of content, substance is sub-par. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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