A quick look at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Picture…
Synopsis: Based on the memoir by the late Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal sniper credited with the most confirmed kills in American military history, “American Sniper” focuses on Kyle’s four tours of duty in Iraq, and the impact of his dangerous job on his family back home.
Total nominations: 6 (picture, actor, film editing, sound editing, sound mixing, adapted screenplay)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (nominated 11 times; previously won 4)
Starring: Bradley Cooper (nominated for best actor; third nomination), Sienna Miller
Why it deserves to win: Bradley Cooper, who put on 40 pounds of muscle — and a convincing Texas twang — to embody the late Chris Kyle, delivers a performance that is no less impressive a feat than that of “The Theory of Everything’s” Eddie Redmayne, who seems to waste away before our eyes. But “American Sniper” impresses for reasons beyond Cooper’s physical metamorphosis (and plausible handling of high-powered rifles). In this tale of a professional death-dealer, director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall manage the neat trick of making a movie that honors Kyle’s work safeguarding American fighters while acknowledging its aftereffects — or at least those on the monosyllablic mountain of a man behind the trigger.
Why it won’t win: Though more nuanced than one might expect, Kyle’s story has been criticized for its one-sided portrayal of the Iraqi enemy, who are largely presented as one-dimensional figures. Nevertheless, American audiences on both ends of the political spectrum have embraced the movie, which seems to have just enough evenhandedness to feed into whichever viewpoint of Kyle — hero or monster — that we enter the theater with. Whether it’s controversial (or merely noncommittal), “American Sniper” seems too much of a hot potato to be a shoo-in.
Michael O’Sullivan’s review: 3 stars
“The flavor of a western is not accidental. Kyle, at one point, announces that he always wanted to be a cowboy. Maybe Eastwood does, too. Despite a couple of moments when it isn’t clear who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, “American Sniper” keeps its metaphorical headgear — white hats and blacks hats — very much separate.”
Box office as of Feb. 17: $307.1 million domestic, $392.8 million worldwide