American Sniper Hits the 4K UHD Target

(L-R) Kyle Gallner and Bradley Cooper in American Sniper. Image courtesy of IMDb Pro and Warner Bros. Pictures.

Smack dab in the month of Memorial Day, Warner. Bros. Pictures released Clint Eastwood’s highly regarded American Sniper for the first time on 4K UHD disc and boasting Steelbook packaging. The Bradley Cooper vehicle celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, after scoring over $547 million at the box office and six Academy Award nominations. Film Obsessive was able to receive an advance copy for this edition of our “Off the Shelf” series. 

The Movie

A woman holds the face of her husband.
(L-R) Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller in American Sniper. Image courtesy of IMDb Pro and Warner Bros. Pictures.

American Sniper counts as a modern classic for Clint Eastwood that continues his powerful thematic penchants of grit and heart. Steeped in timely history ten years ago, the story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle earned big screen treatment after a best-selling novel and highlights both the real battlefield and the psychological one back home. Compared to Eastwood’s deep historical resume that included films like Letters from Iwo Jima, the modern battlefield of the War on Terror was a daring new setting and technical challenge for the virile then-84-year-old director. Eastwood’s longtime cinematographer and editor team of Tom Stern and Joel Cox combined handheld shooting and a sharp eye for pacing to deliver anything but a plodding slow effort that you might have expected from the typical Eastwood. American Sniper was deftly adept at tackling the Chris Kyle story and held all its sharpness.

In Kyle, Eastwood had the palette of an ordinary man and changed his usual tone to scale back a portion of the sentimentality and skip the usual piano-based score. If you think the charismatic and loudmouth Bradley Cooper was preening here for glamor, glory, and heroism in some exploitative war film for box office dollars, you would be wrong.  Questions of external politics and heroic worthiness of an accomplished killer aside, Cooper dissolved into the role and all of its difficult strength and emphasized the plainness of a man who carried a unique legend.

At the 87th Academy Awards in 2015 where Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel raked in the most awards, American Sniper earned six nominations, including Best Picture for Eastwood, Cooper, and fellow producers Andrew Lazar and Peter Morgan. Cooper doubled that with a Best Actor nod. Jason Hall’s script received a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. The film’s one Oscar win would come on the technical side with Best Sound Editing next to nominations for Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing.

The Disc

The base 4K UHD cover of American Sniper
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Back in 2014, Tom Stern shot American Sniper digitally rather than on film at a resolution around 2.5, making the 2160p HDR10 transfer a bump up in video quality. The close quarters shots, especially on faces and skin tones, show the most improvement in detail. The whites also pop and help make the purposeful saturation of the arid wartime settings glow a little brighter. On the sound side, the disc presents the mayhem and the serene in-between moments impeccably, matching a film that was up for–and won– one of two sound Oscars. Barring someone in the Warner lab making a big mistake with the Atmos mix, the audio was never going to falter. 

The biggest draw for this disc release will be the bold Steelbook packaging. Warner Bros. has been dabbling more and more with the collector’s fad this year. It’s a wonder they didn’t jump on that popular accoutrement a year earlier during its 100th anniversary when the frequency and fanfare behind their new release and catalog releases was at their peak. Sure, they may have held this for American Sniper for this 10-year anniversary, but it still feels a year too late. 

The Steelbook cover art for American Sniper

The American Sniper Steelbook treatment is the selling point because the 4K UHD set offers zero substantial new special features from the previous DVD and Blu-ray editions, and no backup or re-released Blu-ray disc for older players. It’s 4K UHD, digital, or bust here. For film releases like this, there’s always the hope for new callback content rather than retreads tagging along with an A/V upgrade like this edition possesses. 

Granting credit to the original 2015 disc releases, the five returning production featurettes are luckily are all substantial in their scope, last admirable lengths, and stayed in HD. “One Soldier’s Story: The Journey of American Sniper” is the longest of the five, running 31 minutes on the layers of project’s genesis under Clint Eastwood’s stewardship. Following closely with that film-centered perspective is the 28-minute “The Making of American Sniper” going the usual Warner Bros. behind-the-scenes route into the layers of the shoot and including testimonies from the top-level crew along with the stars.

The respectful aim of the filmmaking side is matched by three documentaries looking at the real-life side of the film’s subject, position, and history. Running 30 minutes each, “Chris Kyle: The Man Behind the Legacy” and “Navy SEALs: In War and Peace,” tout the figure and his fellow serviceman with a dose of hero worship fitting their shared stature. The last is “Bringing the War Home: The Cost of Heroism” which spreads wings to the greater past conflicts of other eras and their parallel to the American Sniper story.

The “newest” piece of the American Sniper special features is the 15-minute 2021 mini-doc “Clint Eastwood: A Cinematic Legacy – The Heart of a Hero.” That career retrospective and toast of peers was ported over from HBO Max to be added to this disc. The anniversary would have been a prime opportunity for a simple “looking back”-style interview with Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper, especially as the top dedicated bankrolling producers. Had WB waited a few more months from this spring release to something this fall, Eastwood would have been finished with post-production on the strike-delayed Juror No. 2 and Cooper would have been free from the arduous awards season commitments for Maestro. They could’ve carved a day out in California to meet and yuck it up on American Sniper. 

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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