Friday, October 3, 2014

The First "American Sniper" Trailer Proudly Declares the Return of Gritty Eastwood

Left to right: Kyle Gallner and Bradley Cooper
It has been an interesting year for Clint Eastwood. This summer, he released the much maligned Jersey Boys, which was an adequate adaptation of the Broadway sensation. However, there's also a sense that the veteran director who has won two Best Picture Oscars (Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby) was going soft. It isn't that he needs to prove anything with one of the most impressive careers in film in front of and behind the camera. However, after some delay, Eastwood returns with a film that seems like a more serious Oscar contender and likely his strongest candidate since Invictus. In the first trailer for American Sniper, it looks like he has brought Bradley Cooper along for an intense, thrilling example of why when Eastwood does gritty, he does it better than anyone else.

I will admit that maybe I was wrong in assuming that Jersey Boys was a potential Oscar candidate. However, with Eastwood being such an established director with a strong track record, I hold out hope anytime he releases a new film. While he hasn't made any that necessarily have had more than likable momentum in quite some time, he remains a powerful force when it counts. From his spaghetti western homages in his early directorial efforts to the AARP masterpiece Gran Torino, he has kept a distinguished voice of a falling generation whose voices aren't recognized that often in cinema.

Then along came American Sniper, which is immediately distinguishable from his most recent output for many reasons. For starters, his last few films have dealt with political subject matters such as Invictus and J. Edgar. Also, he seems more invested in character dramas than anything else at this point. To have a film about one of the most successful snipers in American military history, it may have sparked something new and exciting in his technique. Will the film be a shoot 'em up or a thought provoking sympathy piece? Speaking as Eastwood has a strong affiliation to American patriotism, the answer will likely fall somewhere in the middle. However, as someone who also directed other war films including Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, there are already expectations set in place for this presumed epic.

Here's the first trailer:

While it doesn't quite help me to become more excited about the film, it may be one of the best trailers that I have seen this year. All that needs to be done is to analyze technique. It plays out through Chris Kyle's (Cooper) perspective as he spies on a potential terrorist. The moment is already gripping with fear from the potential violence that will break out. However, spliced in between these scenes are flashbacks to Kyle's past including his marriage and family life back home. The nuances are subtle and over the course of two minutes, creates a thriller unto itself. We understand what the film will be about without having to give too much away. Also, it makes me want to see this particular sniper scene play out and understand why we are there. 

According to IMDb, the plot is:
"A Navy SEAL recounts his military career, which includes more than 150 confirmed kills."
It sounds pretty straightforward. However, the question is if the war film stands any chance in a year that already sees strong competition from World War II films such as Fury and Unbroken. While the Academy has a strong history of recognizing war films, it does seem like there are problems with acknowledging contemporary subjects. While The Hurt Locker is the only exception, the War on Terrorism has been greatly ignored since. The only film of note was Zero Dark Thirty, which was shrouded with controversy for violence and questionable depictions of American military. Even if the film made the Best Picture race, it still seemed like a long shot to actually win. In fact, the only category that it did was a split with another film, making its achievements only half of an award essentially.

With a quick search of statistics website Gold Derby, American Sniper doesn't have any leg in any race. It could be that this trailer is the first that anyone has seen of it. However, with its limited release on Christmas Day, it does have that sweet spot opening in which it will have the most attention possible. Considering Eastwood's track record with the Academy, it also seems likely that as long as the film is as gripping and exciting as the trailer, it can get into the race. Maybe even Cooper can sneak in a nomination, provided that he is actually good. If nothing else, it will join the camp with Lone Survivor of contemporary war films to be ignored whether or not there's actual quality to them. Still, it does feel like the Academy needs to recognize more recent subject matter sometimes.

Otherwise, American Sniper looks exciting and it's great to have the gritty Eastwood back. Hopefully the film will deliver on its intense trailer with an even more gripping film. Otherwise, it's just another Eastwood film, and that's fine also. However, I am hoping for the former since it has been awhile since he has impressed me. At best, he has done fine work that appeals to an older crowd, and that is reassuring as well, even if I don't care for it.  Even then, American Sniper will hopefully be entering the conversation real soon, so fingers crossed. This could be a really great year for war films.

Is American Sniper going to be Clint Eastwood's return to the Oscar race? Is Bradley Cooper capable of getting a Best Actor nomination? Will American Sniper be ignored in favor of Unbroken or Fury due to similarities?

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