Actor - Bradley Cooper
Film Editing - Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
Sound Editing - Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
Sound Mixing - John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
Writing (Adapted Screenplay) - Jason Hall
American Sniper is the story of Chris Kyle, real life Navy Seal who served and survived four tours of duty in Afghanistan, and who went down in history as the deadliest sniper in the service. His brothers in arms called him "Legend" for his accuracy and his unparalleled bravery. Kyle becomes obsessed with eliminating a sniper from the other side whose skill is equal to his own and who injures and kills marines from incomprehensible lengths. Chris, whose protective instincts are central to his character, feels responsible to pursue his enemies to save the lives of marines in country - this he does almost without fail. At the same time, his wife and family are at home, and coping with the challenges of life without him, and occasionally listening in via cell phone as his unit is attacked - not really knowing if Kyle is safe at the other end of the call.
American Sniper is a superb, but difficult, film. Of the eight nominees for Best Picture, this is the one that I'm not sure belongs in the Best Picture category. It's a very good war film with a strong lead role, but doesn't have the same gravitas as other war films like Saving Private Ryan or Platoon. Bradley Cooper is wonderful, and this is a version of him that we haven't really seen before in his other movies. Cooper stretches and demonstrates what makes him so good, as he uses his face, body, and being to convey the human side of being a killer, and does this even in cases where there is no dialogue.
The screenplay was good but could have been tightened up to capture more tension, rather than showing much of the same story again and again. To see the same fights with Kyle's wife, the same struggle to re-enter society, and the same high tension fighting scenes didn't move the story forward enough with each scene. Unfortunately for American Sniper, I don't see this film being the winner of this category, or many of its nominated categories.
War movies do very well in the technical categories, because of the tremendous challenge to edit scenes and sound, and sound mixing, in particular. American Sniper is a very strong contender in these areas, especially Sound Mixing. (Stay tuned for my predictions blog at the end of the season to see if I think it will be the winner.)
Because Sound Mixing is a technical category, I'll explain it here, and in a future post will explain the difference between this and Sound Editing. The challenge for the sound mixer is to take all of the sound elements - recorded sound effects, dialogue, music, ambient noise, etc. and put them together, and maybe adding additional effects or manipulations to each thing that is being mixed together. Don't forget that when a movie is being made, there are several takes of a single scene - think about cutting a portion of one take where a seagull is cawing, and a portion of another take where it's quiet, and having to make sure that the whole sound is heard, all the while mixing the dialogue, music layers, etc. - this is a very meticulous job which is not an easy one. Musicals and action films tend to be the winners of this category, because there is just so much to mix, and American Sniper is emblematic of Sound Mixing done right.
Bottom line, American Sniper is a very good film that I recommend seeing. It deals with complex issues, and Bradley Cooper makes seeing the film worth it. But if you don't like it, don't shoot me.
Watch the American Sniper trailer below: