With his elegant, touching and thought-provoking 2006 double header Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of our Fathers, Clint Eastwood has already proven he knows his way around a war film.
As a follow-up to his recent Four Seasons biography Jersey Boys, the veteran director takes a more contemporary look at combat with this adaptation of the New York Times bestseller American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as ace Navy Seal marksman Chris Kyle.
Having been taught to shoot by his old man as a child, Chris (Cooper) soon realised that he was pretty nifty with a gun. Not in a Rambo-esque, all guns a-blazing kind of fashion, but in a cool, calm and calculated method as a Navy Seal sniper.
It doesn't take long before the moniker 'legend' is thrust upon him by his impressed peers for his shooting prowess , but it's one that doesn't sit easy with him. As the tours build up, and the more time he spends on foreign soil, war, unsurprisingly, begins to take its toll as it slowly chips away at his mental state.
With the film recently gaining Oscar approval, gaining six nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor for Cooper, American Sniper is now more likely to appear on an audience's radar. However, the fact that Eastwood has been omitted from the Best Director category is far more telling.
Eastwood has tried in earnest to make a relevant and contemporary war film. It's as if he's sat down and watched Kathryn Bigelow's 2008 Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker over and over again, and wanted to make something eerily similar in both style and content.
Sadly his effort falls short in all departments. The film isn't dynamic enough to appeal as a gritty combat film, and it stutters as any kind of cinematic critique on war. This leaves it stumbling around in No Man's Land, struggling to come to terms with what kind of film it really is – or indeed wants to be. It dearly wants to be worthy, but also misses that mark.
Cooper certainly deserves his Oscar nod, and although unlikely to win in a really strong year, it's a testament to his clearly improving abilities as a serious dramatic actor which should hold him in good stead for the future.
As far as Eastwood is concerned, although a brave attempt, his direction and vision just lack any kind of impact, missing the elusive target by some considerable margin.