Free Choice Viewing – American Sniper

 

American Sniper

 

Critique:

I was mostly disappointed by the 2014 film American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood and originating in the US.  Though, to be honest, I didn’t have incredibly high expectations for it in the first place, being a film about the “most elite sniper in history”.  The film lacked subtlety, depth, good pacing, and was rather political in its presentation, taking away from the personal stakes it was trying to achieve.  For a film trying to talk about PTSD, or at least the immense stress of combat, they focused far too much on how skilled and elite the protagonist was.  At the end of the movie, Chris Kyle gets over his problems without any real difficulty or explanation, problems that boil down to noble heroic man-pain – “I couldn’t save everyone!  I’m so sad!”  His flaws aren’t explored enough, and his good sides come off as generic, especially when the film tries to blatantly tug our emotional strings by showing him as a family man.  In addition, this movie comes off as really racist, and really pro-Iraq War, which I had personal beef with.  Almost every Iraqui they meet is essentially an evil enemy, who must be defeated at all costs.  The seemingly kind man who invites the soldiers over for dinner is actually a terrorist.  The woman and child walking on the street are suicide bombers.  It goes on.

With regards to technical elements, I also found myself disappointed.  The editing is sloppy, with countless amounts of unnecessary repetition, overlong fight scenes, and time skip-filled pacing that comes off as half-asleep and bleary, which is how I felt by the time the film was over.  The cinematography was very uninteresting, with very standard Middle-East-war conventions, with stark high-key lighting that was almost blinding (with absurdly dim night scenes), and a color palette full of sandy beige and brown dirt, combining to make a visual style that was rather hard on the eyes.  The same could be said of the costumes, which were either indistinguishable army uniforms, or indistinguishable civilian clothes.  There seemed to be a fair bit of deep space used, especially during sniper scenes, when the protagonist and his targets would be so far away.  The frame rate and aspect ratios were nothing special, 24 fps and 2.35:1 respectively.  These all do come together and give a powerful tense atmosphere to everything that happens, but that’s about all it amounts to.

It is very clear whose points of view are being told in this story: Chris Kyles, especially due to its source material, an autobiography.  Vulnerability is shown, but not deep flaws, including Kyle’s bigoted stance towards Islam, and his tendency to repeatedly lie about his accomplishments.  The war is always presented as good, and necessary, and the fights have far too much visual pizzazz to be dark.  This is no Apocalypse Now.  This is a very singular point of view.

 

Storyboard:

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.32.03 PM

Duration:  0:04.

Shot Size:  LS.

Angle:  hi <

Movement:  None.

Notes:  This is a standard high-POV long shot to establish the opening scene of the film, and the setting in which it’s taking place.  Note the high, dominant position of the sniper, who will soon pass judgment on the two people who come out of the building.  The color palette is mostly a dull grey, and the bits of color spotted throughout are chaotic, disparate.

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.32.11 PM

Duration:  0:16.

Shot Size:  CU.

Angle:  Eye level.

Movement:  Pan Right.

Notes:  In this shot, our perspective starts on the gun, before moving right to get our first look at the protagonist, Chris Kyle.  This very clearly frames Kyle as someone inherently tied to, and probably defined, by his weapon.  It is the method through which he views the scene, and interacts with the other subjects in it, so naturally it’s important.  The lingering length of the shot is similar to the rest of the movie, which takes a deliberate, disparate pace to things.

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.32.15 PM

Duration:  0:03.

Shot Size:  MS.

Angle:  Eye level.

Movement:  Hand Held Shot.

Notes:  This shot clearly establishes the door, one of the key parts of the scene, giving us further information on the setting, and clearly riveting it for the tense action up ahead.  The blue color of the door stands out among the rest of the scene, giving it greater importance in the shot.

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.32.29 PM

Duration:  0:04.

Shot Size:  CU.

Angle:  Eye level.

Movement:  None.

Notes:  This shot begins a repetitive, if effective sequence of shots from the same relative angle, giving is this up-close, personal look at Kyle, his gun, and his reactions to the events surrounding him.  This is probably my favorite scene in the movie, because it’s doing what the rest of the film should have done – shown him making difficult, traumatic judgment calls, and exploring the both intimate and distant relationship between him and his enemies.  There are a lot of repetitions of this shot that aren’t in this storyboard, for the sake of being concise.

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.32.53 PM

Duration:  0:06.

Shot Size:  CU.

Angle:  Eye level.

Movement:  POV Shot.

Notes:  Here, we see a potential antagonist for Kyle, with a cell phone, viewed through his deadly, tunnel-vision position of power.  This is an interesting relationship between characters, done effectively, because the sniper can see him, but he can’t see the sniper, and neither of them really knows what the other is doing.  This makes the communication one-sided, and deeply limited.

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.35.26 PM

Duration:  0:05.

Shot Size:  CU.

Angle:  hi <

Movement:  POV shot.

Notes:  This shot is similar to the previous one, but many of the effects are amplified.  Chris Kyle is now in a higher position than them, looking down and judging whether they are enemies or not.  He has a great deal power in this scene, with the ability to kill or not kill, but also a great deal of stress as a result.  Once again the communication is one-sided and limited, showing things from Kyle’s bigoted soldier’s perspective.

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.35.37 PM

Duration:  0:02.

Shot Size:  MS.

Angle:  lo <

Movement:  Pan right.

Notes:  This, and couple other shots in the scene, show the two potential antagonist from the American Ground soldier’s perspective, once again neglecting to show the woman and child’s views.  From here, they’re not small, they’re looming and dangerous, on the same level as them.  This shows us the people that Kyle is looking out for, and the danger they may be in.

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.35.45 PM

Duration:  0:02.

Shot Size:  CU.

Angle:  Eye level.

Movement:  Zoom.

Notes:  As the scene progresses, and the tension mounts, the shots get shorter and shorter, back and forth between Kyle and his target, as the ticking clock begins to mount, and the decision must be made.  Everything builds up to whether he will shoot or not, and in this we can see him once again framed by his weapon, which takes up far more of the frame than him, and dominates the scene more.

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.36.07 PM

Duration:  0:02.

Shot Size:  ECU.

Angle:  Eye level.

Movement:  None.

Notes:  Once again, though not all the shots are presented in this storyboard, their length continues to get shorter and shorter, focusing more and more on the weapons carried by the Iraqis, and the sniper.  This takes that to an extreme, focusing clearly on the Kyle’s gun, and the anticipation of whether he is going to fire it.

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.36.12 PM

Notes: Duration:  0:02.

Shot Size:  CU.

Angle:  hi <

Movement:  POV Shot.

Notes:  This final shot in the scene tracks the little boy from the sniper’s perspective, his carried a key element in the scene.  The shots are extremely short, the music is high, and the tension is almost at breaking point, before the scene cuts away to a flashback, and depriving us of an easy emotional conclusion, at least for the present.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.