Recliner Reviews | Zone in on ‘American Sniper’

In this image released by Warner Bros. Pictures, Bradley Cooper appears in a scene from “American Sniper.” (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Keith Bernstein)
In this image released by Warner Bros. Pictures, Bradley Cooper appears in a scene from “American Sniper.” (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Keith Bernstein) AP

“American Sniper”

People made a lot of noise about this adaptation of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle’s autobiography. Liberals attacked its hoo-rah attitude toward war, and right-wingers defended its depictions of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and held Kyle’s flawed book up as a hero text.

But for critique’s sake, let’s look at the film and not the politically attached implications.

Director Clint Eastwood keeps getting better with age. His focus remains sharp. His battle scenes hit the mark. Bradley Cooper earns high marks for his furious portrayal of a controversial figure. He pushes scenes with sheer emotional force. Most of these scenes he shares with Sienna Miller, who plays Kyle’s wife.

Miller is charming at first, but soon devolves into a whiner who recites a teary incantation so many times you’ll want to return for another tour in Iraq. Too much pressure was put on this film, even releasing it for Memorial Day weekend is a bit manipulative, but block out all those distractions and just zone in on the target, because it’s worth a watch.

“Black or White”

Kevin Costner is a white grandfather. Octavia Spencer is a black grandmother. Jillian Estell is their mixed-raced granddaughter. This is a movie about who should have the right to raise her.

Yes, this topic has been explored before on film. The usual diversity conversations occur here. The difference is this movie was made by writer/director Mike Binder (“Reign Over Me” and “The Upside of Anger”). Binder is pretty good with broken characters, and Costner plays a character who has been ripped to shreds – a grieving alcoholic raising a young girl.

Spencer takes on her share of complexities as well. The problem is with the supporting characters being comprised of stereotypical archetypes and the plot playing out by the numbers. The title says it all, there isn’t enough grey, but Costner and Spencer do enough to make it interesting – barely worth a watch.

“Dear White People”

This satire revolves around four black students trying to make their way through an Ivy League college. Young director Justin Simien trudges across the heady material of race, managing the issue with levity and trying to pass on a message that race should be handled on a personal and human level, instead of blanketed assumptions, indifference or intolerance.

As with many young filmmakers with a message, there are moments of heavy-handedness – look at a young Spike Lee or Quentin Tarantino, those guys had iron fists in their first couple films.

For an inexperienced cast – Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams, Teyonah Parris and Brandon P. Bell – they keep the wit locked into the dialogue for the most part. There is a spark here – a smart shine which could hint at a bright future for Simien. It’s far from perfect, but it’s worth a watch.

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