Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Jason Hall
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller and Ben Reed
In the opening scene of American Sniper, we see Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) agonizing over a judgment call he has to make in regards to an Iraqi youth, who may or may not be a military combatant. To shoot or not to shoot? That split second judgment call is indicative of the minute to minute reality for Kyle, a Navy Seal sniper serving in the Iraq war. Charged with protecting his comrades, Kyle doesn’t have the luxury of ruminating over the morality of his actions. He’s trained to react, pure and simple, and he excels at doing so. There’s no time for emotional fallout – that comes later, when he returns stateside after each tour of duty.
Forget the politics – that’s another discussion. At its core American Sniper is a riveting biopic, the subject of which just happens to be the most lethal sniper in the U.S. military history. Some celebrate that legacy, some revile it, but Kyle was doing his job, pure and simple, and Sniper is his story.
We see through a series of flashbacks of Kyle hunting with his father that he was clearly a gifted shooter. During his training as a Navy Seal, his superiors quickly recognize his talent and begin honing his sharpshooter skills. Once he arrives in Iraq, Kyle spends hours if not days propped against the padding on his weapon, awaiting any indication that something is out of sorts with his surroundings. His sense of responsibility to his comrades is crippling; he’s haunted by the handful of soldiers he couldn’t keep safe. His daily existence consists of living in a pressure cooker.
Things aren’t any better when he returns home after each of his four tours of duty. Although he has a wife and kids eager to spend time with him, he can’t decompress or acclimate, and clearly exhibits signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s as jittery and nervous as an addict looking for his next fix, and for Kyle, that’s the next tour of duty.
This is what director Clint Eastwood is exceptionally good at; giving the layperson an inkling of what these men go through when they return home. It’s hard not to be sympathetic to their plight. Their malady has no cure. They adapt or they don’t. We saw a bit of this with The Hurt Locker a few years ago, but Sniper gives a much more detailed account of the sheer inability of some of these soldiers to ever lead a “normal” life again. Kyle eventually finds some respite from his demons when he begins helping injured veterans.
Cooper is nothing short of amazing in his role. He completely embodies the persona of Kyle, a cowboy from Texas who chooses to serve his country. He’s buffed and scruffed up, and nails the Texas accent. He’s a doppelganger for the real Kyle, who’s shown in a photo at the end of the movie. Sienna Miller plays his wife Taya. She’s serviceable, but doesn’t have a lot to do except weep and bemoan the state of their marriage. Fortunately, her character’s screen time is limited. The focus stays firmly on Kyle, as it should.
Eastwood is good at storytelling, and he is perfectly suited for the material. He has directed a relentlessly suspenseful film. It’s rare that I don’t check my watch, but I was thoroughly engrossed in Sniper from start to finish. It was also the first time I witnessed an audience reaction like I did after the movie. It was absolute, dead silent after the credits. People were deep in thought, and several veterans invited to the screening were crying. This is one of those films that is an experience, not a mere watch, and must be seen on the big screen to do it justice. Whether or not you agree with Kyle’s moniker of “legend” his story is fascinating and eye-opening. – Shannon