4 Movies to Watch If You Love American Sniper, and an Alternative If You Don’t
Academy Award Best Picture nominee American Sniper, starring Jenkintown native (and Best Actor nominee) Bradley Cooper, officially opens nationwide this weekend. The film is projected to rake in a record $50 million-plus at the box office and create legions of fans of the Clint Eastwood-directed flick about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. If you love it and find yourself wanting more, you’re in luck. We’ve rounded up four films that contain similar elements to Sniper, and an alternative if it wasn’t quite your cup of tea.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
IF YOU LIKED AMERICAN SNIPER‘S: Gritty, jargon-heavy warfare rendered immaculately by crisp cinematography and shot in a spare, neo-realist style.
TRY: Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker, which is a nail-biting drama about a bomb squad commander (Jeremy Renner), whose unorthodox methods make the rest of his squad increasingly nervous. The film’s smart, sharp look from DP Barry Ackroyd, and refusal to play by conventional rules help lend it an air of authenticity that cannot be denied.
Comparison: Much less rah-rah than Sniper, and much less dedicated to deifying a military hero, Bigelow’s film is a somewhat more sober take on the soldier’s emotional cost of doing business, and fascinating as a result.
The Messenger (2009)
IF YOU LIKED AMERICAN SNIPER‘S: Absolutely brilliant acting from male leads who seem to thoroughly sink into their roles.
TRY: The Messenger starring Ben Foster, who remains a remarkably under-appreciated talent. A chameleon-like actor with the ability to subtly alter his entire countenance from role to role, he plays a wounded member of an Army Casualty Notification team, along with good buddy and compatriot Woody Harrelson, who’s also exceptionally good. Both men are absolutely outstanding in their roles in Oren Moverman’s poignant drama
BECAUSE: Both Foster and Bradley Cooper, who plays Chris Kyle in Sniper with just the right amount of swagger, humility, and steely resolve, are excellent, but again, the point of the films are quite different. Moverman’s film is about attempting to move on from the deepest sort of grief, albeit fitfully, while Eastwood’s is far more about doing one’s job against all other distractions.
IF YOU LIKED AMERICAN SNIPER‘S: Strong sense of irreverent banter and day-to-day lugging of a modern American military operation set against a backdrop of a Middle Eastern war.
TRY: Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s engrossing documentary Restrepo, which follows a year in the life of a platoon stationed in one of the deadliest zones of Afghanistan. Over the course of events, we get to know the soldiers, their quirks and foibles, and watch them having to live under the surveillance of countless enemy hoards, who attack them mercilessly. Ironically, Hetherington himself was hit by shrapnel and killed after making this film, shooting in another war zone in Libya.
BECAUSE: Hard to compare a doc and feature, it’s true, but in both cases, we get to see a bit of the inner workings of a soldier under constant fire. Kyle became so well known for his abilities, he was dubbed “the Legend” by his fellow soldiers, which did not go unnoticed by the Iraqis, who put a huge bounty on his head as a result of his successes. Available on Netflix streaming.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
IF YOU LIKED AMERICAN SNIPER‘S: Searing battle scenes that play out with almost video-game-like narratives, shot chaotically enough to give you some sense of the confusion and insanity in a modern warfare campaign.
TRY: Ridley Scott’s adaptation of then-Inquirer writer Mark Bowden’s epic 29-part series that appeared in the paper and subsequently was turned into a book. Also based on true events, but of a slightly less polished sheen, the film is a harrowing jumble portraying a mission going to absolute hell, and the surviving soldiers having to get through a night in extremely hostile territory in Mogadishu. Imagine The Warriors, but in real life, and set in war-ravaged Somalia.
BECAUSE: Much more of an ensemble piece, Black Hawk offers you a bunch of characters (played by such luminous actors as Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Eric Bana and Josh Hartnett), but moves so quickly and chaotically, it’s difficult to get much of a fix on any one personality. Instead, it’s the mission itself that’s the main protagonist, which makes for a less dramatically satisfying experience in some ways, but also a far more realistic one. Available on Netflix streaming.
Let There Be Light (1946)
IF YOU DIDN’T LIKE AMERICAN SNIPER‘S: Jingoistic, pro-military dramas based on true stories, that play with their facts until everything lines up precisely the way they want them to.
TRY: John Huston’s infamous post-WWII doc, which was produced by the U.S. Government in an attempt to suggest the debilitating PTSD suffered by many surviving soldiers, was eminently treatable and no big deal. Unfortunately, as far as they were concerned, Huston’s camera captures not just former soldiers turning the corner in their recovery, but the hellish damnation of many others enduring physical and emotional injuries in the hospital. Rather than suggest everyone was on the mend, the film’s stark imagery suggests quite the opposite.
BECAUSE: In a sense, they both succumb to a kind of imbalanced perception; but while Huston’s film makes its considerable point in its skillful editing, Eastwood’s film stacks the deck for its hero protagonist from the very get-go in every possible way, rendering a fabricated portrait that more than a few critics have completely disavowed. You can watch this film on YouTube.
Piers Marchant is a film critic and writer based in Philly. Find more confounding amusements and diversions at his blog, Sweet Smell of Success, or read his further 142-character rants and ravings at @kafkaesque83.