Thursday, 22 January 2015

Best Actor 2014: Bradley Cooper in American Sniper

Bradley Cooper received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Chris Kyle in American Sniper.

American Sniper is an uneven film, with a far too many clich├ęs, but not a wholly ineffective telling of the story of Chris Kyle dubbed the most lethal sniper in American history. 

Bradley Cooper has received his third consecutive Oscar nomination this time being the first time where it is not from a David O. Russell film, and the first time he plays a real person. After his over acted work in American Hustle Cooper thankfully has dialed it back substantially to play Chris Kyle in this film. In addition to his physical transformation in the part Cooper plays the role with a thick Texan accent. Cooper makes it consistent and naturally sound, but most importantly it contributes greatly into the way he becomes Kyle. Cooper makes the transition seem relatively simple but it is very effective in terms of disappearing into the role of Chris Kyle. Cooper in fact does not have a single scene where he is manic or does his wild eyes routine once. He stays with Kyle as a man who Cooper plays rather well as a somewhat reserved figure. It is interesting because the way Cooper does it is not like someone who purposefully closes them off emotionally, but rather is a man from a specific background where he has learned to behave in a certain way. 

In some of the earliest scenes chronologically speaking we are given some particularly standard scenes as Kyle begins his career in the military and starts the courtship of his wife Taya (Sienna Miller). Cooper is good in them though carrying a certain charm as Kyle. He importantly does not overplay this though bringing out a likability that is very much fitting to a guy like Kyle. These scenes are written as particularity standard interactions between future husband and wife and after their wedding it is rather standard husband and wife interactions. Cooper though is good even given the somewhat weak material presented to him. He does his very best to sell everything he has and is at least convincing in creating an honest feeling relationship between Kyle and his wife, even though it is about as standard as one could be. Cooper though does not ever the weak material weigh down his performance. He gives it his all still, and creates well enough the starting point for Kyle's life just before he is about to go to war where he seems to find his true calling. 

The war scenes are Cooper's best scenes in the film particularly the scenes where Kyle is proving his skill as a sniper. His very first kill, which is of a young boy and his mother are particularly harrowing. Cooper adds to this through his very convincing portrayal of Kyle's manner as he's sniping. Cooper shows the way his whole self seems to be in on the target as there is such an ferocity he brings into the moment as he makes his mark. Cooper even uses the way he breaths in the scene to suggest how he chooses the split second in which to make the shot. Cooper is great in all of the action scenes as he brings the needed dramatic weight to them through his performance. That first kill of his is an outstanding moment for Cooper as there is no moment where he screams out about having to kill the kid, but Cooper does release just through his slight facial reaction the anguish Kyle goes through in the moment. Cooper is fantastic in that scene because he does completely realize the emotions of the scene without needing to go over it in the film. Cooper internalizes it so well and makes the sniping scenes the best scenes in the film.

The film juxtaposes the scenes at war with particularly simplistic scenes of Kyle at home with his family. Again it goes through some simple motions with his wife showing concern while Kyle still has love towards his wife and children. Cooper again is good and successfully avoids being overwhelmed by when the script lags. Cooper is especially effective in portraying the way the war wears on him and how he expresses the post-traumatic stress disorder that Kyle seems to develop. What Cooper does so well once more is keep it as a guy like Kyle would. Cooper shows Kyle still being very to the point about things and constantly as a man who seems to have it together. There are none of the scenes you might expect in this regard as he has no outbursts, but Cooper still realizes it. Cooper in his physical manner and delivery gradually becomes more tightly wound. He builds the pressure of beneath the surface, revealing it yet never exposing so to speak. Cooper is rather fascinating in the way he does present a man who is slowly decaying yet never once loses it. Cooper knows exactly how to far to go with it and it's a very compelling portrayal of his condition. 

Although the film has problems throughout Bradley Cooper's performance is never one of them. He becomes Chris Kyle here. He brings out the best of what there is in the script. Whether it is in the war scenes where Cooper successfully coaxes the needed intensity to make them have an actual visceral impact. Without Cooper's presence these scenes very well might amounted to nothing, but Cooper keeps them from being emotionless through his performance. He is equally important in bringing some emotional poignancy to the home scenes which is very much needed. These scenes certainly can be repetitive but Cooper's work never seems as such. Cooper elevates the material best he can, and even such scenes as the somewhat over done final scene, where everyone seems a bit too sure of Kyle's fate already, Cooper stays convincing. Although I would say a much better film likely could have been made out of the story of Chris Kyle, there also should have been a better film for Bradley Cooper's performance. Even when the film does falter Cooper's performance never does. He carries the film through its rough patches, and gives a consistent and moving portrayal of Chris Kyle.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree, a great performance from a really good actor. I quite like the film - it's not amazing but I found it quite compelling.

Michael Patison said...

I have quite a bit of trouble evaluating the film. I found it quite compelling and rather moving, but it was indeed wildly uneven at times. In fact, it's rather unfortunate a scene as strong as the sandstorm has to be in the same movie as some of the dialogue in the early scenes (even before he meets his future wife). Evaluated separately, it's like one's a Van Gogh and the other is something I would have painted in kindergarten.

luke higham said...

I enjoyed the film, well enough, although I agree that Cooper's Performance deserved better material overall.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

The script is borderline propaganda, yet I think both Eastwood and Cooper realized this. It feels like half the movie they seem to undermine the script's attempts to go "AMERICA FUCK YEAH" and explore that mentality. So I don't necessarily thinks it's uneven so much as an interesting example on how to interpret a bad script and make it work.

As for Cooper, he was very good. Still prefer him in The Place Beyond the Pines, but his lived-in portrayal is exactly the sort of roles he needs for his career.

luke higham said...

Louis: Any recent film viewings for 2014.

Anonymous said...

Louis, is this your favorite Cooper performance? Or do you prefer Silver Linings Playbook?

Michael McCarthy said...

I think I agree with Robert on this, the combat scenes were definitely stronger than the home scenes but I think Eastwood and Cooper did a really good job of making it an exploration and nearly a satire of a particular mindset.

I think you're absolutely right about the last scene though, they really overdid it with how nice and happy everything was right before Kyle meets with the murderer.

Deiner said...

I agree he is fantastic here. I'm a little embarrased to admit I liked the film even though I'm conscious it is propaganda.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what's your ranking of Eastwood's films as a director?

Anonymous said...

Hey Louis what do are your ratings and thoughts on Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep in The Hours and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Erika Christensen in Traffic?

Anonymous said...

Louis what were your top 10 films of 1996 and 1973.

Louis Morgan said...

Robert: The reasons I described it as uneven is because I felt the war scenes amounted to a decent action movie, whereas the home scenes did not amount to a decent drama.

Luke: Nothing new.

Anonymous:

The would actually be my favorite.

Matt:

Eastwood Ranking:

1. Unforgiven
2. Letters From Iwo Jima
3. The Outlaw Josey Whales
4. A Perfect World
5. Play Misty For Me
6. Gran Torino
7. Bird
8. Changeling
9. American Sniper
10. Invictus
11. Mystic River
12. The Bridges of Madison County
13. Sudden Impact
14. Jersey Boys
15. J. Edgar
16. Million Dollar Baby

Anonymous:

Moore - 4(Here's a performance that I don't have any complaints about and I even think she's portrays her character's decaying psyche fairly effectively. I don't know though it's one that I think perhaps hit the right notes I suppose, but just never became as moving as the material indicated that it should be. I may be in the minority on this, but Kidman is easily my favorite out of the cast)

Streep - 3(I thought she was fine but unremarkable there. That whole storyline I felt never amounted to much, I suppose that has a great deal due to the way I feel about Ed Harris's performance which is suppose to be the heart of that section. Streep, may not have had the material really, but nothing about her character's bout with depression became all that powerful or poignant)

Zeta-Jones - 3(I like her more than usual as she calms down some of her more hammy mannerisms down. I don't think she does anything that amazing, but she's reasonably fine in the role. She may have been able to convey more of a transition to a worthy gangster herself, but it does not feel like she's actively lacking either.)

Christensen - 3(She's fine at portraying her character as she progressively becomes more doped up. She serves her purpose well, but she does not go that far past that leaving the emotional moments basically up to Michael Douglas, although that really has more to do with the writing and direction)

1996:

1. Fargo
2. Hamlet
3. Secrets & Lies
4. Sling Blade
5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
6. Bottle Rocket
7. Trainspotting
8. Ransom
9. Jerry Maguire
10. Swingers

1973:

1. Badlands
2. The Exorcist
3. The Sting
4. Jesus Christ Superstar
5. The Day of the Jackal
6. Mean Streets
7. Scarecrow
8. Papillon
9. Charley Varrick
10. Westworld

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Are you going to review Chief Dan George in The Outlaw Josey Whales for 1976 Supporting?

Louis Morgan said...

He's a possibility.