Review: American Sniper

Every year, I always try to see every movie that could possibly be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar before the nominations are announced and usually I see every nominated film except one. Last year, it was Philomena, a couple of years ago it was Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour, a few years before that it was An Education and now this year it is American Sniper.

Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall chronicle the life and career of the most lethal sniper in American history. Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper is Chris Kyle, a native Texan who hears the call to serve his country and enlist in the Navy where he begins his career as a sniper who will be credited with 160 confirmed kills out of 255 probables in the line of duty during his four tours of duty in Iraq.

Bradley Cooper kills as Chris Kyle in American Sniper

What American Sniper is at its core is a chronicle about a man who is difficult to decipher. Cooper’s Kyle is a vintage Texan, turned cowboy turned Navy Seal, but it goes deeper than that. I had a difficult time in trying to label Kyle and his purpose in this film; is he a soldier? A hero? A killer?

Cooper plays this role so well on screen it is difficult to determine who he is as a man in this dangerous climate, but what makes this movie so valuable is that it demonstrates the horror of what the idea of war can do to a man and those around him and those closest to him. Every shot taken, every man, woman or child killed, or almost killed, by Kyle’s trigger finger simply takes a piece out of his soul and makes it difficult for him to connect with anyone not in uniform, especially his wife Taya, played by Sienna Miller, and their two children.

This is certainly an intense feature to watch because the subject matter is so compelling and tragic. I can see why Eastwood gravitated towards this movie as a director because in a way, American Sniper could be interpreted as a Western but set in the recent/modern Middle East with Kyle as a lawman who comes into an wild and unruly establishment trying to bring justice to a lawless and merciless environment. Eastwood would know something about Westerns given his experience in the film industry.

This movie certainly brings the reality of the Iraq War to the audience to discover for themselves. We hear about these atrocities being done a world away and how the men and women who serve over there see and suffer these horrors and how they never really come back home whole and the story of Chris Kyle certainly brings that element to the audience to experience for themselves; he saw and did things that took away pieces of what made him human and he and Taya had to deal with the wreckage that resulted in him doing his duty.

Sienna Miller (left), Clint Eastwood (center) and Bradley Cooper all shape American Sniper’s success

This is a constraining feature that was directed well, acted well, and written well to convey the message that war is destructive to the soul. There is actually a quote that hammers this message home, where Kyle’s friend compared war to a childhood memory where he and his friend had lived in a community with an electric fence around the area and this guy’s friends played a game to see who could hold on to the fence the longest.

This certainly will go down as Bradley Cooper’s most exemplary performance to date. Whether he is scoping a potential target, or screaming at a nurse to tend to his crying newborn daughter, or sitting in front of a turned-off television lamenting in his grief at the horrors that he saw and did, Cooper simply owns this role to the fullest degree.

There isn’t much to say regarding the remainder of the ensemble, outside of Sienna Miller. The cast of actors outside of Cooper and Miller, whether they are U.S. Soldiers, Servicemen, Marines or intelligence, common folk on the homeland, or insurgents, Al Queda, or targets, are simply transients who do what they do and then they are hardly seen again.

Credit should be given to Clint Eastwood and Jason Hall for adapting Kyle’s story from his autobiography written by Kyle, Scott McEwen and James Defelice. American Sniper is a quality war-drama with a grueling story behind it.

Honestly, whenever Kyle was sniping at a potential target with Geoffrey Milcat’s score accompanying the action, if Kyle had to take his shot, I was muttering “take it” myself because the situation called for it; this is a movie that pulls you in and it brings the reality of the situation to the forefront.

I felt that the cinematography, courtesy of Tom Stern, added to the realism that Eastwood wanted in this picture and the Joel Cox and Gary Roach’s editing allowed the story to flow naturally, giving the story and the scope a great sense of dimension to what Chris Kyle saw and did in the line and in life.

If a movie like The Hurt Locker had the message that war is a drug, then American Sniper should be a promotional video highlighting the dangers that come with that drug. I felt that this was a rather steady and profound film with a great degree of merit in its suspense.

I enjoyed watching American Sniper, I enjoyed watching Bradley Cooper in American Sniper and I feel that it was a movie worth watching.

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