“American Sniper” 4 stars (out of four)
Clint Eastwood brilliantly directs the best film of 2014 with “American Sniper,” a compelling big-screen adaptation of the autobiography of late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. An emotionally charged and brutally honest portrayal of the most prolific sniper in American military history, the film is honorable in that it’s not necessarily about heroics, but a heartbreaking, warts-and-all portrait of Kyle during his four tours of duty in Iraq, and the effects the war has on his loved ones at home.
A God-fearing military man who loves his country, Kyle, played with layered subtlety by Cooper, is taciturn, and appears to take no great joy in what he does. Forgoing any sort of “oorah” chants, his duty as a sniper behind the long barrel of an M40 rifle is one that he’s humbled by. If he does his job, his fellow soldiers live. If he doesn’t, they die.
While “American Sniper” features perhaps the most authentic Iraq War scenes ever filmed, Cooper hauntingly brings the war home in his head, dealing with the psychological torment of a man operating on an extremely high, adrenaline fueled level, who is forced in the course of a day-trip home to downshift to the seemingly mundane life he leads at home in America.
It’s here where “American Sniper” becomes a well-rounded story, where Chris’s wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), tries to tap into the conflicted mind of her husband who can’t seem to embrace his duties as a family man because he’s too preoccupied with how many lives of soldiers he could be saving if he were back on the battlefield. He only finds his peace in other soldiers worth saving – the men and women physically and psychologically wounded in VA hospitals on the home front – a path that ultimately leads to his untimely death.
Whether it’s recreating the chaos of the battlefield or the monotony of Kyle sitting at home in front of a blank TV screen, Eastwood is in complete command of “American Sniper.” The film, naturally, is at its most poignant at its conclusion, where the director showcases real-life photos and videos of Chris and Taya Kyle, and the ultimate salute he received by his country after his death. Ultimately, Eastwood and Cooper humanize the man the enemies feared, and rightfully so, called “The Legend.”
Reviewed in brief:
“The Wedding Ringer” (R) 3 stars (out of four)
Kevin Hart and Josh Gad are hilarious in “The Wedding Ringer,” a predictable yet cleverly conceived comedy that is funny throughout despite some very disgusting, over-the-top gross-out moments.
Gad stars as Doug Harris, a loveable loser who realizes two weeks before his wedding to his high maintenance fiancée, Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), that he has no friends: a big problem, considering he needs to come up with a best man and six groomsmen for the big day. Lucky for Doug, there’s a service for such quandaries, run by the fast-talking, silky smooth hustler Jimmy Callahan (Hart), who for $50,000, assembles a rag-tag bunch of “friends” for his client – a group, that along with Doug, makes him realize that he just may be lonesome himself.
Hart and Gad provide a perfect comedic one-two punch in “The Wedding Ringer,” and thanks to unlikely comedic turns by Ken Howard as Doug’s future father-in-law and the always adorable Cloris Leachman as Gretchen’s grandma, it thankfully avoids becoming a one-joke movie. It’s even charming if not a tiny bit poignant at times, bringing a strange sense of balance to the movie, considering it’s about as politically incorrect as a comedy gets.
“Blackhat” (R) 1 1/2 stars (out of four)
What should be a timely film about cybercrime is mostly just a cy-bore.
“Blackhat,” without a doubt, has all the right elements to construct a top-notch thriller, from director Michael Mann to “Thor” star Chris Hemsworth and a solid supporting casting including “The Help” Oscar nominee Viola Davis, but in the end, simply fails to connect with its audience. It starts out with promise and intrigue with a cyber-attack on a Chinese nuclear plant and the Mercantile Trade Exchange in Chicago, but quickly takes a sharp dive into a lumbering, aimless chase film where the feds spring a dangerous, imprisoned hacker (Hemsworth) to help ferret out the bad guy.
Mann, the “Miami Vice” TV director who went on to helm such modern classics as “Heat” and “The Insider,” never seems to find the right pacing and sense of tension with “Blackhat.” Try as he might to carry the film, Hemsworth, speaking with an American wiseguy accent, goes through the action movie motions on his way to the Mann-like one-on-one confrontation with the villain – an underwhelming development in that is played by the largely-unknown Yorick van Wageningen. So much for another Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro “Heat”-like confrontation that made the crime thriller such a nail-biter.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.