Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Chris Kyle was the deadliest sniper in US military history, with 160 kills across four tours of duty in Iraq. For the Iraqi insurgents he was enemy number one – there was a $180,000 reward for killing him – for the US military he was their guardian angel. Knowing he was looking over them made them feel invincible. Kyle was a man that became a US military legend. Unfortunately, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is more concerned with showing us the legend than the man.
As a child Kyle’s father taught him there are three kinds of people in the world: sheep who won’t stand up for themselves and will be abused, wolves who seek to bully and harm others, and sheep dogs who are blessed with the gift of aggression and use it to protect the weak and innocent. Chris Kyle is a sheep dog. Inspired by the embassy bombings in East Africa he joins the Navy SEALS and before long finds himself in Iraq. As he grows in standing his missions become more specialised. Having been assigned to team to take out the infamous Al Qaeda operative known as ‘The Butcher,’ he also becomes obsessed with capturing an Iraqi sniper named Mustafa whose skills rival his own. Continue reading
Directors: Mouse McCoy, Scott Waugh
Starring: Nestor Serrano, Alex Veadov, Jason Cottle
Act of Valor is a propaganda film in disguise, and not much of a disguise at that. Originally intended as a recruitment film before developing into a more traditional war film, it was made with the participation of the US Navy SEALs and is dedicated to all those Navy SEALs that have died in active duty since 9/11 (and their names all appear on screen).
The story – a fictional tale based on “real life acts of valor” but at the same time seemingly taken straight from the big book of war movie clichés – follows an elite team of Navy SEALs whose covert mission to recover a kidnapped CIA agent becomes a mission to stop a terrorist attack on the USA.
The involvement of the military in the film is really Act of Valor’s defining feature. All of the marketing for the film emphasises the fact that the Navy SEAL characters in the film are played by real life Navy SEALs, as though that were a good thing. While this means they are very comfortable doing soldier things, other aspects like character development and dramatic tension are lacking as a result of some of the most wooden acting you’ll ever see.
The strength of this film, however, is the authenticity of its action sequences. The battle and procedural sequences are impressive in a non-Hollywood kind of way. The authenticity – or what appears to be authenticity to someone who wouldn’t really know what authentic military action looks like – is where the involvement of the Navy SEALs really brings something to the film. The film captures some quite impressive manoeuvres involving helicopters, boats, trucks and submarines. The action sequences do, however, feature a great deal of first-person camera angles making it look like a videogame, which has me thinking perhaps it was intended specifically to recruit Call of Duty gamers.
While this sense of authenticity guarantees that Act of Valor does have some redeeming features, the extreme hands-on-hearts American patriotism will likely be off-putting for most non-American viewers.
Rating – ★
Review by Duncan McLean