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Shot Down

Eastwood's 'American Sniper' is dead on arrival

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SHOOT TO ILL Bradley Cooper leads a cast of cutouts and cliches in Iraq War biopic.
  • SHOOT TO ILL Bradley Cooper leads a cast of cutouts and cliches in Iraq War biopic.

Director Clint Eastwood's new film, American Sniper, has been called a neo-Western, but is that fair? When was the last Western made where all the Indians were bad Apaches?

Texan Chris Kyle, nicknamed "the Legend," was a Navy SEAL sniper with a reported 150 kills during his four tours of duty in Iraq. In American Sniper, Eastwood envisions Kyle (Bradley Cooper) as a barrel of movie tropes: cowboy, rodeo rider, lone gunman, gruff soldier uncomfortable with womenfolk and the settled world, and uncomplicated country boy who was simply taking the advice of his father (Ben Reed): "There are three kinds of people in the world: wolves, sheep and sheepdogs." This Pink Floyd–level reductionism passes for profundity.

From boot camp to the front line, American Sniper follows the rut of all bad war movies. Kyle goes back and forth between stateside and this undifferentiated Hajiland in which he hunts men. And of course he only shoots people who deserve it—they're all caught red-handed.

Cooper, beefed-up and bearded-out, keeps gazing off camera like a ruminative Chuck Norris. There may have been little for Cooper to grasp in Jason Hall's script. Kyle saw himself as a Christian soldier, carrying a Bible and a tattooed cross into the fray. Recall that George W. Bush himself had to apologize for referring to his war as a "crusade," but let it pass.

As Kyle's wife Taya, Sienna Miller deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor for the lines she's forced to utter. She's there to be the sniper's conscience, but her insights evolve from snap-judgment to absolute whine. Finally, the primordial movie-wife threat: "I don't think we'll be here when you get back."

If useful patriotic lies really make the nation stronger, Kyle's father is sadly right and America is full of sheep. Despite the varied opinions on the war, it ought to be understood by all that American Sniper beats stiff competition to become the most bullshit biopic of the year.

'American Sniper' is playing in wide release.

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