It's very impressive that Clint Eastwood is still directing films in his mid-80s, but if he can't do any better than this dull and pointless effort (not to mention the previous 4 films), then maybe he'd be better off staying home and putting his feet up. Do not be fooled by the Oscar nominations and big US box office. This is a long and tedious film that serves no useful purpose.
This has been the season of BOATS (based on a true story) movies full of biopics, from Mr Turner, through The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken and Foxcatcher. Each of these films has hoped to ride on the back of its subject's amazing-but-true story to box office and award-winning glory. But the trouble with real lives is that you need to have an interesting subject with a compelling story, and Chris Kyle fails that test from day one.
It's no reflection on Bradley Cooper – who gives it all, including some serious bulking up – to say that his is one of the least deserved Oscar nominations for Best Actor in many years, and it reflects the inherent conservatism of the Academy, that they should choose him (and this film) ahead of much worthier efforts. Kyle was a Texan who joined the Seals at the turn of the century with a worthy, but unoriginal desire to serve his country. Turns out he was very good at shooting people with a big rifle from a long distance, which came in handy in Iraq, where he lay on rooftops and shot people who were perceived as a threat. Or were Iraqi. Or both.
That takes up about 65% of the film. The other 35% is him failing to connect with his wife at home (Sienna Miller gives it her best shot – pun intended), but there is nothing new in this seen-it-all-before issue of a man who can't emotionally connect when he's not killing the enemy. The Hurt Locker comes to mind as a film that tackles this subject about 25 times more successfully. Kyle himself seems to have no interesting features whatsoever, and it is unclear why Eastwood has chosen to make a film about him. Clint claims that he is anti-war, and who am I to doubt him, but you can't get away from the fact that most of the action takes place in a war zone, and if the action is less than thrilling, it's not for want of Eastwood trying to make it so. The dysfunctional marriage stuff feels like something that got included to give the film some balance and emotional heft, but all it does is make it longer.
There's been a good deal written about the fact that Kyle was not a hero (as the film implies, whatever Eastwood may claim), and it's hard to argue with that suggestion. I would be perfectly happy if he was an anti-hero, because at least that would make the film more interesting. But instead he's a blank canvas which has had nothing drawn on it. He's a killing machine who doesn't know how to function when he's not pointing his big long thing at people. Very sad for him, I agree, but surely a lot worse for the people he shot.
If by any chance you were thinking that this might be a return to form by Clint Eastwood, forget about it. It's another dud.