A very good, often compelling, well acted and, at times, powerful movie, but is it really worth all of the Oscar hype?

I have no basis for historical accuracy, neither having read the book nor served in the military. Even prior to its release, there was Oscar hype surrounding this movie.  Even in the trailers, it feels like this was an Academy Award hopeful in design and production. Now, does it live up to that billing? That hype? After all, already talking Oscars before it is released, seems an awful tall order for any movie.

I would like to see an anonymous poll someday taken of Oscar voters to see how many of them actual vote on a movie based on the actual worthiness of the movie.

After all, history shows us that the best doesn’t always win.  Can anyone actually, truly argue that 1998 Best Picture winner Shakespeare in Love is a better, more impactful movie than Saving Private Ryan? That year was simply Spielberg overload and Shakespeare in love won due to the pomp and circumstance leading up to the Oscars.

Similarly, it seems if the name Clint Eastwood is attached, the movie is a shoe in for a Best Picture nomination. And, Bradley Cooper seems to be the Academy golden child with three straight nominations.  But again, is this movie worth the hype?

Directed by
Clint Eastwod
Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Release Date
January 16
Gordon’s Grade: B+

The quick hit summary:

If you don’t already know, this is the story of real life Navy Seal Chris Kyle, who happens to be the most prolific sniper in American military history with 160 confirmed kills and more than 250 probably kills.  He became known by the nick name ‘Legend” and was so feared that there was a six figure bounty on his head from the enemy.  The story deals primarily with his dealings as a sniper in Iraq, but also largely confronts the difficulties are transitioning to domestic life. Ultimately, Kyle is killed by a veteran whom he was trying to help.

On it’s own,this is a very good movie. It is sometimes emotional and Bradley Cooper does a very good job as Kyle and continues to grow his resume with one fine performance after another. However, in comparison to his two previous nods, American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook were far stronger, Oscar caliber performances.

Now, let’s stack it up to previous Best Picture winning movies from Eastwood: Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Unforgiven (1992) and then let’s take a look at Sniper compared to the most recent genre-related Best Picture, The Hurt Locker (2009).

Unforgiven falls into the category of A+ movies. It is as near perfect as a movie can get and was so overwhelming deserving of the Best Picture win, that I think it is easy to forget the impact and greatness of this movie. Sniper strives for this, but it seems to self aware that it is a good movie, rather than accepting of the fact this it is just a good movie.  Million Dollar Baby combines a good story with a movie that becomes great because of its acting.  Sniper is closer to Baby in this regard; however, its acting remains very good, but never is great.  What’s the key ingredient missing from Sniper that both the others had? Eastwood as an actor.  Come back, Clint. Come back.

So how does Sniper compare to recent winner, The Hurt Locker?   Really, it doesn’t it.  In many ways, the two movies are very similar, but in every way that Sniper is very good, Locker is better.  It is great.  It has an intensity and emotion that Sniper strives for but never fully realizes.

But again, let me not detract from the fact that American Sniper is a very good movie with few flaws. It’s simply not a great movie.

Ultimately, the nominations and any subsequent awards may serve more as a posthumous thank you and show of appreciation for Chris Kyle’s service to his country. A Best Picture or Best Actor win might really go toward a victory for patriotism in memory of Kyle, more than to the work of Eastwood or Cooper.



by Gordon Shelly