Reel Reviews

‘American Sniper’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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Blood, guts and lethal bullets

For those seeking an insight into an individual veteran's perspective on the Iraq War, director Clint Eastwood's sober drama “American Sniper” (Warner Bros.) – starring Bradley Cooper as now-deceased Navy SEAL Chris Kyle – will likely hit home.

Yet moviegoers in search of a bigger-picture moral assessment of that conflict, or of armed clashes in general, may come away disappointed.

Drawing on Kyle’s 2012 memoir, Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall trace the expert sharpshooter’s rise to celebrity status among his comrades. They also track his emergence as a prime target for enemy insurgents who eventually put a price on the Texas native’s head.

Determined to safeguard his fellow fighters – who dub him “the Legend” in recognition of his life-preserving prowess – Kyle insists on returning to combat through four grueling tours of duty. But his exposure to the moral and emotional pressures of urban warfare predictably exacts a psychological toll and places a strain on his relationship with his loving wife, Taya (Sienna Miller).

Scenes set during Kyle’s childhood show his forceful dad instilling the belief that people can be divided into three basic categories: predatory wolves, vulnerable sheep and protective sheepdogs. From the adult Kyle’s point of view, it’s enough to know that there are villains on the loose in Iraq – and innocent victims potentially at their mercy – for his chivalrous course of conduct as an aspiring member of the third grouping to become apparent.

While Eastwood successfully conveys Kyle’s personal heroism, his film avoids engaging the larger issue of whether the geopolitical cause to which Kyle repeatedly and resolutely lent his skills was an ethically valid one. In purely cinematic terms, moreover, the picture alternates between effectively displaying the consequences of Kyle'’s scaring battlefield experiences and weakly relying on dialogue that can only hint at these same wounding repercussions.

Taken on its own terms and considered as a whole, however, Eastwood’s movie reliably escorts viewers through both the agonizing instantaneous dilemmas and the longer-term complexities that confronted the courageous warrior on whom its action centers.

The film contains stylized violence with some gore, a scene of torture, a premarital situation and partial nudity, some sexual humor and references, several uses of profanity and constant rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service 

‘Selma’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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A gripping account of civil rights march

Arriving on screens almost precisely 50 years after the events it portrays, director Ava DuVernay fact-based drama “Selma” (Paramount) compellingly recreates a crucial battle in the long struggle for African-American equality.

Adult subject matter, potentially disturbing images and intermittent lapses into vulgar language would normally suggest endorsement of DuVernay’s film for grown-ups only. Yet, when assessed in a holistic way, the movie’s historical value may nonetheless make it acceptable for mature adolescents.

The summer of 1964 saw one of the signal achievements of President Lyndon Johnson’s (Tom Wilkinson) tenure in office: the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Still, as the following year opened, the president was – at least as depicted here – anxious to concentrate on other matters, particularly the economic measures of his Great Society program.

For Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo), on the other hand, nothing was more urgent than the drafting of federal legislation that would finally secure access to the ballot box for minority voters in the South.

As a scene featuring activist Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) illustrates, although black citizens had the theoretical right to vote, local authorities had long used absurdly burdensome registration requirements to block them from exercising their suffrage. Nowhere were such underhanded stratagems more effective than in Cooper’s hometown of Selma, Alabama.

With that state’s implacably segregationist governor, George Wallace (Tim Roth), committed to resisting all reform, King agreed to lead a long protest march from Selma to Alabama’s capital city, Montgomery. It would prove to be a portentous decision.

Screenwriter Paul Webb effectively showcases the inspiring rhetoric of the time. But he also provides behind-the-scenes insights into the heated debates over tactics among King and his associates, the toll taken on them by the constant threat of violence under which they were forced to live as well as the emotional burden placed on King's wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) by her spouse's numerous infidelities.

Despite its apparently narrow focus, the picture presents a richly packed tableau of the era’s characters, organizations and conflicting ideologies. Thus, for younger viewers especially, it can serve as a vibrant and informative look at a period whose effects are still being felt – and assessed – half a century later.

The film contains some harsh violence, an adultery theme, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, a couple of rough terms and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (February 2015)

CNS classifications: A-I -- general patronage; A-II -- adults and adolescents; A-III -- adults; L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; O -- morally offensive.
MPAA ratings: G -- general audiences. All ages admitted; PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children; PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian; NC-17 -- no one 17 and under admitted.

A
Addicted, O (R)
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, A-II (PG)
American Sniper, A-III (R)
Annie, A-II (PG)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
B
Begin Again, A-III (R)
The Best of Me, A-III (PG-13)
Beyond the Lights, A-III (PG-13)
Big Hero 6, A-II (PG)
Birdman or (The Unexpected Value of Ignorance), A-III (R)
Black or White, A-III (PG-13)
Blackhat, A-III (R)
The Boy Next Door, O (R)
D
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, A-III (R)
Dracula Untold, A-III (PG-13)
Dream House, L (PG-13)
Dumb and Dumber To, O (PG-13)
E
Edge of Tomorrow, A-III (PG-13)
Exodus: Gods and Kings, A-III (PG-13)
G
The Gambler, L (R)
H
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, A-II (PG-13)
Horrible Bosses 2, O (R)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, A-II (PG-13)
I
The Imitation Game, A-III (PG-13)
Inherent Vice, O (R)
Interstellar, A-III (PG-13)
Into the Woods, A-III (PG)
J
John Wick, O (R)
L
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Last of Robin Hood, L (R)
M
Million Dollar Arm, A-III (PG)
Mortdecai, A-III (R)
N
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, A-II (PG)
Nightcrawler, L (R)
O
Ouija, A-III (PG-13)
P
Paddington, A-II (PG)
Penguins of Madagascar, A-I (PG)
Project Almanac, A-III (PG-13)
The Pyramid, A-III (R)
S
Selma, A-III (PG-13)
St. Vincent, L (PG-13)
Still Alice, A-III (PG-13)
Strange Magic, A-I (PG)
T
Taken 3, A-III (PG-13)
The Theory of Everything, A-III (PG-13)
Top Five, O (R)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
U
Unbroken, A-III (PG-13)
W
The Wedding Ringer, O (R)
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, A-II (PG-13)

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