Rapid Movie Review: ‘AMERICAN SNIPER’ and ‘BLACKHAT’

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Preston Barta // Editor

AMERICAN SNIPER | 132 min. | Rated R
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Keir O’Donnell and Sam Jaeger

AMERICAN SNIPER is Clint Eastwood’s harrowing and shattering take on the life of Chris Kyle and his service in the Navy as a SEAL sniper (over 160 confirmed kills). The story is deeply emotional, but depicts Kyle’s life in a very honorable way. It doesn’t show him as an invincible legend, but more as a mere man with a heart and soul that are clearly broken due to his sacrifice for his country.

While Eastwood doesn’t break any ground with direction here, I do believe he was a perfect candidate to tell Kyle’s story, and he did an incredible job of that, without putting politics on the screen. AMERICAN SNIPER is a rough story to watch no matter your political views, as war is hell on all sides.

Bradley Cooper portrays Chris Kyle in AMERICAN SNIPER. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Bradley Cooper portrays Chris Kyle in AMERICAN SNIPER. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

The film gives us a frightening look into the world that many of us are unfamiliar with. Many of us don’t know death like this. We don’t know what it is like to face the mental and physical obstacles that our troops face during combat. Eastwood and his filmmaking crew give us a small glimpse into that world and what our troops face overseas and stateside.

On top of Eastwood’s story achievements, there is Bradley Cooper’s astonishing performance as Kyle. Cooper bulked up and took on a very difficult role. Along with capturing Kyle’s appearance, Cooper’s mannerisms, Texas strut and accent are down to the proper detail. With his hat on backwards, a big dip of Copenhagen in his mouth, and a Marvel’s Punisher symbol painted on his armor, there is almost a superhero-like quality to the film. And why not? Kyle was a real man who saved lives and was the best at what he did, and he did it all for truth and the American way.

AMERICAN SNIPER opened in limited release Dec. 25, but is rolling out nationwide today.

Also, be sure to check out our red carpet interviews with Bradley Cooper, Taya Kyle (wife of Chris Kyle) and others here.

BLACKHAT | 133 min. | Rated R
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, William Mapother, John Ortiz, Sara Finley, Holt McCallany and Leehom Wang

There was a time when Michael Mann used to churn out great, thought-provoking films, such as all the movies listed on the posters for this feature (HEAT, THE INSIDER and COLLATERAL). From the looks of it, Mr. Mann’s best years are behind him. Since 2004’s COLLATERAL, Mann directed MIAMI VICE and PUBLIC ENEMIES, which were mostly foam and no beer. It’s only January, and his latest film, BLACKHAT, has already provided 2015 with a strong candidate for worst movie of the year.

At its core, BLACKHAT is cyber mystery where Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), a hacker serving a 15-year prison sentence, tries to prevent a presumed hacker threat. What plot there is features the FBI, a (compassionless) love interest and a trusted friend, but those elements are so poorly handled they are barely worth mentioning.

Characters? Well, you can forget about caring for those in BLACKHAT. Not even Hemsworth with his abs of steel, charms and gleaming eyes can hold your attention. There is neither a well-defined villain, nor explicit or implicit goals to chase, which in turn make the film difficult to follow. The basic components are comprehensible while their connections to one another are anything but.

Wei Tang and Chris Hemsworth star in BLACKHAT. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Wei Tang and Chris Hemsworth star in BLACKHAT. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

On top of its poorly written characters and narrative, Mann’s filmwork (how he shot it, edited it, etc.) is shoddy at best. Mann has been experimenting with digital filmmaking since COLLATERAL, but only a fraction of his films since then were used by digital cameras. With BLACKHAT, Mann abandoned 35mm film entirely, and ran entirely digital, a move evoking the subtle drama and nuance of Spanish-language telenovelas. Video quality isn’t even consistent, with some instances appearing crisp and others fuzzy, with a camera that cannot remain still.

The sound editing is even worse: one scene features Viola Davis’ character walking and talking with Leehom Wang’s. During the exchange, she replies, but her mouth isn’t moving. This is not internal narration nor clever play with the fourth wall; this is not a case of cutting back and forth with another scene later on in the movie. It’s just that poorly edited. The mix is amateur work that might be expected out of a college freshman. The sound levels aren’t even grounded and instead vary wildly from scene to scene!

BLACKHAT is a misfire and an embarrassment for all parties involved. Its third-rate construction, uneven pacing, and tedious story are the film’s most shocking crimes. Even the film’s premise is laughable, dating back over a decade to 2001’s ANTITRUST with Ryan Phillippe. Don’t waste your money this weekend – it would be best to wait for AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (May 1) or IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (December 11) to check in on Hemsworth. For that matter, there are a lot of now Oscar-nominated films arriving in theaters, such as AMERICAN SNIPER, that are far more worthy of your attention.

BLACKHAT opens today.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.