American Sniper

Director: Clint Eastwood (2015)

Astonishingly nominated for six Oscars and almost comical in feverish flag-waving patriotism, this celebration of a real-life cold-blooded killer is way off target.

Set during the Iraq war, it’s action scenes are directed by Eastwood at his most gun-lovingly, gung ho.

Rodeo-rider Kyle is a dim and unquestioning believer in the need to protect god, country and family.

In the backwoods as a boy his father taught him to shoot deer and be independent; to be a sheepdog not a wolf or a sheep.

As Kyle, the most successful sniper in US history, Bradley Cooper hides his charisma under a bushy beard and a beefed up physique. These are dog-whistles for nominations at the Academy during the awards season.

After the atrocity of 9/11 Kyle signs up for the navy SEALs. After a brief romance and some basic training (or possibly some basic romance and brief training) he’s off to Iraq where he kills women, children and other anonymous Iraqis while equally anonymous comrades fall.

Four lethal tours rush past in a cloud of dust and bullets. Kyle becomes a celebrity and is nick-named the ‘Legend’, though humbly, mumbly dismisses any uncomfortable hoopla.

Sienna Miller as home-alone wife Taya does her best in a role than demands she only be sexy, nagging or pregnant. Their long-distance phone calls are unpardonably ill-timed and unconvincing.

Two neither particularly interesting or formidable bad guys contribute to a ragged script structure with Kyle’s sights split between them.

One’s a driller-killer leather-clad maniac called The Butcher and the other a sniper called Mustafa.

He and Kyle engage in a long distance duel during which Kyle chooses to put his entire squad in danger. Though considering Kyle’s loose cannon approach and the amazing levels of military mis-management, it’s not much of a surprise.

Eastwood directs in his usual pared-down style, at 84 years old it’s doubtful he’ll be trying new tricks any time soon.

Working with a familiar crew, the editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach are multiple Oscar nominees – mostly for Eastwood pictures – and their work brings a solid dynamism.

We see Kyle suffer a touch of post-traumatic stress disorder and the film ends abruptly, just like the life of all the people he shot from a mile away.

If even the mafia’s Sonny Corleone (James Caan) questions the validity of your approach to killing, a little self-awareness might go a long way.

★★☆☆☆