American Sniper: Eastwood’s Biopic War Film, Starring Bradley Cooper, is Oscar Caliber

For months, there has been speculation as to whether or not Clint Eastwood’s new war drama, American Sniper, is Oscar-caliber.

american_sniper_posterHaving seen the picture, which premiered last night at the AFI Fest, I am delighted to report that American Sniper is one of Eastwood’s best features, and one that should garner Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and other nominatiions comes nominations day, January 15.  Warner will release the feature on Christmas Day, but the Oscar buzz has already begun.

American Sniper boasts all the strength of  Eastwood’’s best work: terrific performances, especially of lead Bradley Cooper,  expert technical contributions from the director’s reliable crew, and a intelligent, multi-layered script that’s rich in text as well as subtext.

The film’s literary source material is American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History is a memoir by the American Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.  The book, which was published by William Morrow on January 2, 2012, appeared on the N.Y. Times Best Seller list for 20 weeks. The though-provoking scenario  is by Josh Hall based on the memoirs of Chris Kyle, whom Eastwood described in his opening remarks as “the most dangerous sniper in the history of American military.”

In his introduction, Eastwood proudly noted that the film was debuting on Veteran’s Day, which is most fitting since it’s a patriotic celebration of soldiers’ undeniable heroism, while at the same time providing a devastating account of the toll that the serice takes on them.


american_sniper_2_cooper_miller_eastwoodAfter receiving Oscar nominations for his last two films (“Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” both directed by David O. Russell), Bradley Cooper continues his hot streak, delivering with a fully-fleshed-out, uniquely American character. Gaining necessary weight to look convincingly beefed-up, and adopting a Texan drawl, Cooper delivers a performance here that goes beyond anything he has done so far.

Cooper is placed in a crowded category that already has several actors competing for the five slots, but his work is so good, he can displace any one of them.

In contrast, Siena Miller is in a race that’s less jam-packed, and she manages to provide a lot of heart to what is potentially a one-dimensional role, the supportive wife.

The film also displays the kinds of adrenaline and energy that most other films should envy, thanks to Eastwood’s team, including editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach; cinematographer Tom Stern, and other members of his reliable crew.

The picture was originally targeted for a 2015 release, but Eastwood has worked so fast and so efficiently that it bceame ready for this Oscar’s season.

The film superficially resembles “Hurt Locker,” though it brings a very different sensibility to the material. I think the overlap between the two films will be more of a talking point among critics than among awards voters. Most voters will concentrate on the soldier’s attitudes and their learning curve, issues which are both harrowing and timely.

american_sniper_1_cooper_eastwoodIn introducing the film, AFI president-CEO Bob Gazzale referred to Eastwood as “an American icon,” which he certainly is.  At 84, he remains one of the oldest and yet one of the most active and resourceful filmmakers working in Hollywood today.

Eastwood has won the Best Picture and the Best Director Oscars twice, for the Western “Unforgiven” in 1992, and for “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004.


I will return to this film, which is brief in running time, but rich in text and subtext, at a later date.