Posts Tagged ‘War Movies’

American Sniper: Not Enough Bang—Movie

January 20, 2015

Bradley Cooper gives a bravura performance as Chris Kyle, the hero of “American Sniper.” Unfortunately, as presented on-screen, the film’s execution doesn’t measure up to the real person, and over the course of more than two hours, becomes too repetitive. Directed by Clint Eastwood with screenplay by Jason Hall, based on Chris Kyle’s memoir, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, written by Kyle, Scott McEwen and James Defelice, the film delves into Kyle’s childhood, his rodeo career, enlistment into the military, marriage and fatherhood, and most importantly, his years as a Navy SEAL and four tours of duty in Iraq.

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“American Sniper” opens in Iraq with Chris zeroing in on a young target in his sights. The film then powerfully jumps back in time to his home in Texas and a hunting lesson with a young Chris (Cole Konis) and his father, Wayne (Ben Reed). We see that even at a young age, Chris is an excellent shot. Chris’ father is a stereotypical Texas good-old boy, who seems to be all about God, country and hunting. Anything less than “manning up” is unacceptable to him. Younger brother, Jeff (Luke Sunshine), is weaker than Chris and seemingly in Chris’ shadow for the rest of his life. The boys grow up and become bronco rodeo riders. Although successful, Chris isn’t fulfilled and enlists, becoming a Navy SEAL. Interestingly enough, brother, Jeff (Keir O’Donnell), also enlists in the military. Prior to his first tour, Chris meets and marries Taya (Sienna Miller). Soon after he is married, he heads off to Iraq. The film shows that Chris doesn’t take his first kill lightly…that it does weigh on him…but he gets on with the mission at hand. Over time, Chris is known for his sharpshooting skill and his number of kills, earning him the nickname, “Legend.” Chris is matter-of-fact about his accomplishments which wins him the respect and friendship of his fellow soldiers. Although Chris is home for the birth of his first child, a son, it’s easy to see that he doesn’t feel completely at ease there, thinking he should be back with his fellow soldiers. Over the course of four tours, his time at home is more and more strained, especially when he becomes a father again. He goes back to Iraq, but during his fourth tour, Chris seems to realize that when it’s done, it’s time for him to be home for good. But being stateside is easier than it sounds. Chris has flashbacks, violent outbursts and more. It’s not until he tells a VA psychiatrist that he is “haunted by all the guys he couldn’t save,” that he finally finds the road back to a fulfilled life.

Clint Eastwood would seem to be an excellent directing choice for “American Sniper.” He does capture the camaraderie of the soldiers especially well. The good-natured ribbing, even while waiting on targets to make a move, comes off as very genuine. He also does a very good job in showing how boring the life of a sniper can be…the hours of just waiting for movement…while still remaining sharp. Unfortunately for a movie viewer, sitting there waiting with Chris and the other men isn’t very interesting and while the players may change a little over four tours, it feels like one is watching the same thing over and over. And while Eastwood does show us Chris’ home life and the strain tours take on families in general and his in particular, there just isn’t enough of what Chris does to overcome this and get on with his life. We see some of this activity, but it would be meaningful learning more. Eastwood concludes the film on a somber note. To underscore the solemnity, the ending film credits roll in silence. It’s a brilliant touch.

As noted earlier, Bradley Cooper gives an outstanding performance as Chris Kyle. He’s very believable as a man who sees things in terms of black and white, who loves his country and his family—both military and familial. Sienna Miller, as Chris’ wife struggling to cope with the changes she sees in Chris, is also very convincing. The supporting cast of actors playing soldiers is extremely good and those actors make the film feel very realistic.

Unfortunately, even with compelling performances, “American Sniper” too often feels repetitive and flat. The man himself was anything but, and it’s too bad the film doesn’t capture more of that spirit.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

Fury: Must–See Look at the Wrath of War—Movie

October 23, 2014

Fury,” written and directed by David Ayer, may be one of the best war movies …ever. A visceral, raw look at the last days of WWII in Germany, we get a close, upfront view at what it’s like to be on the front lines of war from inside a tank, something rarely seen. “Fury” is based on a collection of true stories from real-life army veterans who spent their time during World War II in tanks. ‘Fury’ is the name given to the film’s M4A3E8 Sherman tank and the film centers on its five-man crew led by U.S. Army Sgt. Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt). The men, who have been together since the campaign in North Africa, are joined by a young newcomer, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), when one of their crew is killed. Norman, fresh out of the typing pool and onto the battlefield, is not exactly what the group is looking for in their fight against the Germans. Therein lies much of the narrative and conflict…personally and professionally.

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The story of the men’s push through Germany is told primarily through Norman’s eyes. While that might seem like a cliché, it’s necessary and it works because, like him, the audience is seeing everything for the first time, just like this rookie. When he’s frightened, we are as well. And when he’s toughened up by ‘Wardaddy’, we also feel bucked up.

Brad Pitt is exceedingly good as the world-weary group leader. Most of the time his character is encased in dirt and blood, but even without makeup you know he’s someone who by 1945 has seen it all—through his voice and eyes. Pitt is able to make his character seem like someone who is comfortable leading men…be they veterans or rookies. The entire supporting cast…the rest of tank crew and the German characters we meet are all outstanding, particularly fellow tank-mates Shia LaBeouf as Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan and Michael Peña as Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia.

“Fury,” however, truly belongs to Logan Lerman and he carries the film masterfully on his character’s fragile shoulders. He is extremely believable as someone who’s probably never before held a gun, let alone killed anyone. Watching his Norman made me think of all the real-life WWII soldiers, like my Dad, who were drafted into the war. What must it have been like for them? My Dad, a NYC guy through and through, and unless he did some squirrel hunting in Central Park that he forgot to tell us about, never held a gun in his life before the war. Although he fought in the Pacific, Dad, like Norman, first did typing and steno work before seeing actual combat. He rarely talked about his war experience, but I believe that Norman represents all the men who were like my father—thrown into something completely alien to them on every level and having to adjust quickly. The fact that Lerman’s Norman could make me identify with him so viscerally only speaks to how wonderful Lerman is in the film and how tremendous the script is.

“Fury” is one of the few, possibly the only war movie revolving around a tank…possibly because the tank space is so cramped, there isn’t room for a lot of action, and face it, tanks don’t move at warp speed, so that precludes chase scenes. However, it’s just those circumstances that make “Fury” work so well. We actually sense how cramped the men are and that is what makes us feel like we are part of the action. Sometimes the film is so dark and the men so dirty, that it’s hard to know what is happening. That only adds to the film’s intensity and grittiness. The scenes in the small German towns are eerie in their silent moments as you hold your breath expecting for something to happen. And when the setting shifts to combat in utter darkness, you really have no idea of who has emerged victorious, just as in real life.

“Fury” works excellently on every level. When you leave the theatre, you’ll feel like you’ve been in battle, too. While a story about men and tanks, “Fury” is, in reality, a wonderful, lasting tribute to all our WWII soldiers.

4 nuggets out of 4

 


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