American Sniper review

Clint Eastwood feels the call of duty, but his patriotic tale is curiously short of spirit

The title may recall memories of direct-to-video thrillers gone by, but there's nothing B-movie about this adaptation of the best-selling biography by US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Hollywood fave Bradley Cooper, it's a handsomely-staged A-list endeavour. Unfortunately, it's immensely serious and rather lacking in thrills.

Cooper plays Kyle, a renowned, celebrated sniper who completed four tours in post-invasion Iraq and claimed a military record 160 kills. During the movie's 132-minute runtime, we see his legend grow as he goes about his lethal business, struggles to eradicate a rival Syrian marksman, returns home between tours to be with his wife (Sienna Miller) and young children, and eventually leaves the SEALs and try to re-adjust to civilian life.

American Sniper stirred up a minor controversy upon release, with some commentators claiming that it glorifies Kyle as a dedicated patriot, enraged by the atrocities of 9/11 and dealing out justice to murderous Iraqis – as opposed to a government-sponsored mass killer. It all depends on your point of view.

More of a concern is that Eastwood peppers the narrative with things we've seen before in countless other war flicks, be it the 'get on the floor and give me twenty' military training camp sequences, the SEALs trying to find love in a local bar, or Kyle winning his girlfriend a teddy bear at a funfair. The latter may well have actually happened, but it reeks of by-the-numbers writing.

Picture: American Sniper is certainly a flag-bearer for the Blu-ray generation, arriving with a 2.:40:1 transfer that searches out details amidst the war debris and impresses with its impeccable sharpness. An early sequence where a young Kyle goes hunting in the sunlit Texas countryside features finely rendered blades of grass waving in the breeze; a dead deer looks real enough to eat.

The colour palette majors on grey, brown and sun yellows during the Iraq scenes, but elsewhere Sienna Miller's blue dress pops off the screen. It's a dynamic image too, with bright highlights and silky blacks, which do on occasion seem somewhat uniform, but that's a minor niggle.
Picture rating: 4.5/5

Audio: This movie was released in cinemas with a Dolby Atmos mix, and Warner Bros. has carried this over for this Blu-ray outing (non-Atmos setups receive the TrueHD 7.1 track). And as an audio experience, it's pretty darn good.

It's at its most involving during the sniper sequences, where LFE throbs are employed to denote the tension as Kyle's finger pressures the trigger, and bullets trace across the soundstage with tight, percussive thumps. Placement of these lethal objects is immaculate. During the scenes back on home soil, the mix is less adventurous (and the plinky piano score begins to grate), but the soundfield is put to good use.
Audio rating: 4.5/5

Extras: There are two 30-minute features here, both worth a watch – The Journey of American Sniper (which features an annoying narrator) and The Making of American Sniper (which doesn't).
Extras rating: 3/5

We say: The movie lacks verve, but the sharp-shootin' AV quality of this Blu-ray lightens the mood

American Sniper, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, All-region BD, £25 Approx