American Sniper recounts the life of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) "the most lethal sniper in US history". Chris was living a quiet life down in Texas as rodeo cowboy with his brother, but after having found his girlfriend in bed with another man and Chris being in a somewhat contemplative mood after his girlfriend had a few choice words for the taciturn Texan. Chris' attention is grabbed by news coverage of the simultaneous and devastating attacks on two United States embassies in 1998. Immediately feeling compelled to do something to help, Chris enlists in the U.S. Navy and is well on his way to becoming a U.S. Navy Seal sniper.
After meeting Taya (Sienna Miller) and getting married, the pair witness the mortifying attacks on 9/11 and Chris is deployed to Iraq to do what he was trained to do. Chris quickly earns a reputation as a sharpshooter in the field and earns himself the nickname "Legend" from his compatriots and comrades. Chris is assigned to find Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but is directed towards "The Butcher" instead, his second in command. Chris finds himself and his team running into an opposition sniper who turns out to be a Syrian Olympic medalist. Chris returns home for the birth of his son and some well earned respite from the war, but feeling like he has unfinished business, he quickly returns for a second tour as he struggles to stay emotionally connected to his family without feeling like he's leaving his comrades at the mercy of his equal, sniper-wise.
Chris becomes increasingly distant from his family as he deploys on two more tours and he becomes more determined than ever to kill the sniper who's been picking off his own men, one by one. The two men engage each other in a deadly game of sniper cat and mouse. Chris has to find a balance between his obligation to his country, and his obligation to his family as he struggles to maintain his composure as a family man, and with his guilt about leaving his men behind in harm's way.
It's hard to believe that Clint Eastwood, a man in his mid 80s, is still capable of directing remarkable movies like this. I don't feel like American Sniper was politically motivated at all, and it wasn't drenched in some sort of motivated commentary either, as most war movies tend to be nowadays. A lot of directors would have been inclined to make a heavy handed anti-war statement with subject material like this, but Clint Eastwood correctly decided to focus on the man himself, and not on the politics behind his deployment.
I have to admit that I never thought much of Bradley Cooper as an actor, I always thought he was just another Hollywood pretty boy, a flavor of the month, but he really threw himself into the role of Chris Kyle with a telling devotion to do the man honor. From his very subtle Texas drawl, to his reserved demeanor, I believe Bradley Cooper did do the man justice. Bradley Cooper spent some time with Chris Kyle too and I think that shows in his performance. I actually forgot I was watching Bradley Cooper during American Sniper at times, he immersed himself in the role so thoroughly. I kept thinking how stylistically natural American Sniper felt too, there was very little in the way of music or score. Everything felt very restrained and very minimal, and as a result American Sniper was unremittingly tense, captivating and electrifying from start to finish.
I did think that Clint Eastwood could have focused a little more on exploring Chris Kyle's resolute sense of patriotism, the brotherhood of war, and the subsequent toll it took on his personal life more than he did. Admittedly these themes were addressed in the movie, but they could have been fleshed out a bit more. All in all though, Clint Eastwood did a great job of highlighting Chris' moral dilemma's against his sense of patriotic duty without ever veering into jingoism. I also think Clint Eastwood made the right decision in relegating Chris Kyle's death as an afterthought within the narrative of the movie. American Sniper is about Chris Kyle's life, not his death. If I had to choose only two words to describe American Sniper, they would be 'powerful' and 'poignant'.
Written by - The Sentry - 07/01/2015