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American Sniper

Inherent Vice

January 22, 2015

American Sniper (***) R

The parts of director Clint Eastwood’s latest film American Sniper are better than the whole but that’s not to say that the film doesn’t eventually congeal into a pleasing confection by the time it reaches its final act. There’s a feeling of déjà vu that manages to run through the proceedings but the film is surprisingly effective and certainly better than the similarly themed Mark Wahlberg starrer Lone Survivor, which was released around the same time last year.

The film is probably one of the few films depicting the personal toll on those serving in the armed forces during the tumultuous years following the 9/11 attacks which doesn’t actually attempt to get political. That’s kind of surprising considering Eastwood’s right wing tendencies but it’s also a testament to his strengths as a director that he’s careful not to let his own personal politics get in the way of the film’s material. His direction is of the makeshift variety and it serves the story well.

The film is based on the memoir of Chris Kyle who was billed as the most lethal sniper in US history. The role of Kyle is well embodied by Bradley Cooper, who seems to be on a roll in terms of making great career choices.

Bradly Cooper in American Sniper

The actor physically transformed himself for the part by gaining forty pounds of pure muscle. He’s believable in every step of the film’s journey and I honestly can’t think of a better choice in the role.

The film opens with a rousing scene in which Kyle, stationed in Iraq, is forced to possibly shoot a child who may pose a threat to his platoon. It’s a tense scene and showcases Eastwood’s strengths as far as that type of thing goes. In fact all of the scenes involving Kyle’s four tours of duty are expertly handled. Unfortunately, some of the material involving Kyle’s domestic life has a generic quality to it but Eastwood’s success with that type of stuff has always been hit and miss. Still, he manages to effectively get the job done, although I can’t help but wonder if the film’s original director, Steven Spielberg, may have been a better choice for some of the film’s more dramatic moments.

In terms of acting, one of the film’s standouts, for my money at least, is actress Sienna Miller, who has largely been MIA from the big screen for the last several years. She really nails the role of Kyle’s long suffering wife who constantly lives with the fear of her husband’s potential fate while also struggling to maintain some semblance of a home life for the couple’s children, in spite of the constant absence of a father figure.

American Sniper is certainly not going to replace some of Clint Eastwood’s better work of recent years in the minds of movie fans but it’s a solid piece of filmmaking that offers more substance than most film goers are used to seeing from a film being released in January. That, if nothing else, is enough reason to give it consideration.

Inherent Vice (**) R

There’s an old saying that’s something along the lines of ‘no pizza can really be bad as even the worst pizza has its pleasures.’ This adage came to mind as I attempted to make heads and tails out of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s seventh film Inherent Vice. Anderson has always been one of my favorite directors and not even a misstep along the lines of Inherent Vice is going to change that. Even the worst Anderson film has its rewards even if finding them proved to be more infinitely difficult this time around. It must be noted, however, that Inherent Vice is certainly the most disappointing of the director’s films in a nearly twenty year career and that’s something for which I wasn’t quite prepared.

Inherent Vice is based on author Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name. I’m told that Pynchon’s work and this novel in particular are not the easiest of things to digest. Knowing this perhaps explains a lot in the way of why the film falls flat.

Witherspoon & Phoenix in Inherent Vice

Perhaps it’s simply the case of a director attempting to film an unfilmable novel or perhaps it’s just a case of Anderson attempting to test the endurance of his fan base. Whatever the case it doesn’t work and none but the most loyal fans of the director’s work will stay through the end credits. Mainstream audience members will likely be fed up within the film’s first thirty minutes and walk out accordingly.

Joaquin Phoenix, in his second film in a row with Anderson, has the lead role of Doc Sportello. His ex, Shasta (Katherine Waterston) shows up at the beginning of the film spinning a tale about some cockamamie plot to kidnap a land developer (Eric Roberts) and have him committed to a looney bin. After that the film goes off on one tangent after another until even the most patient filmgoer will find their eyes rolling around in their head trying to keep up. At the one-hour mark I mentally checked out and I’m not sure that I ever fully got back on board with the film, truth be told. Some of the actors are nearly unintelligible as well which only makes matters worse.

To be sure the film is well cast and features the likes of Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Martin Short and Reese Witherspoon, to name a few, all of whom are as good as the material allows them to be given the inherent limitations. The trouble is that it all adds up to big bunch of nothing.

The incoherent story aside, the film does have some things that make it worthwhile, most notably the excellent period detail and exquisite lensing of the pic by the great Robert Elswit. Unfortunately, these aren’t enough to save the film from its massive missteps. I’m sure I’ll still be anxiously anticipating the next Anderson film but after the experience of Inherent Vice, just a bit more cautiously.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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