American Sniper, 2014.
Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Cory Hardrict, Jake McDorman, Kyle Gallner, Luke Grimes and Sam Jaeger.
Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle’s pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.
With at least 160 confirmed kills to his name US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is frequently referred to as a ‘legend’ in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, but taking lives is not something he takes credit for, it is just something he is exceptionally good at. As Kyle, Bradley Cooper shows a reserved pride for being able to help his fellow soldiers in their missions and he believes in America and wants to serve his country. Whether or not he believes in the war in Iraq is not on the agenda in Eastwood’s film; this isn’t pro or anti war, it is a character study of a military hero and a man whose life was taken in the most ironic of tragic circumstances.
“I don’t care what people think of me” said Kyle in one interview I saw online when asked what people may think of a man who took so many lives. Eastwood’s film also doesn’t ask its audience to judge Kyle or question the morality of who he killed, but takes the audience into the mindset of a man who served his country in four tours (1000+ days) of Iraq and what that experience can do to a man once he returns to a civilian population.
It takes a director of Clint Eastwood’s calibre to ensure the numerous battle sequences in Iraq maintain their credibility and human focus at all time; I cannot recall a single shot which was added for gratification or jingoism, and each kill Kyle makes is matter-of-fact and without celebration. Slow motion Hollywoodization of war is nowhere to be seen – which is the exact opposite of Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor, a true story which played out like an action movie.
Eastwood is often referred to as being ‘workman-like’ but his efficiency of shot choice makes for an effective experience in nearly all his movies, American Sniper being no different. His camera lingers on Bradley Cooper’s face, eyes and trigger finger in close-up whilst he lies on rooftops or on the floors of abandoned rooms so we’re uncomfortably close to the action but Eastwood rarely lingers on the kills. The action isn’t for cheering or applauding, but one cannot fail to be held in the vice-like grip of tension which comes from every combat scene. To this end, Eastwood, like his protagonist, hits the mark each and every time.
The movie does itself no favours, however, with the portrayal of Mustafa, an enemy sniper. Filmed like a bad buy from a spy thriller with a polished rifle and good looks, we see him gearing up and moving in to kill Americans in ways the Americans are never seen. In reality Kyle (I’ve read) says he never saw Mustafa, so why Eastwood decided to make him a character with a face we can see is a misguided choice in an otherwise superbly directed film. ‘The Butcher’, an insurgent leader, is also highly evil to the point of being cartoonish; that’s not to say men like him don’t exist, but these two characters are so jarring in comparison to everyone else, the film at times wanders into ‘let’s kill the bad guys’ territory but never too far that it loses focus of its main objectives.
Where the film also shows dips in quality and interest appears when Kyle is with his wife (Sienna Miller). Kyle is a different person at war than he is at home, but the two sides are conflicting greater with each tour he chooses to go on. These scenes are necessary to show us Kyle’s PTSD (even though the term is never used in the film) and Cooper and Miller both have the ability to make us believe the stress it can cause on both veteran and family, but it’s all very familiar and offers nothing new to the audience which The Hurt Locker, Heaven and Earth, The Deer Hunter hadn’t already covered with great efficiency. What was interesting outside of the Iraq sections, however, was the necessity of fellow veterans to Kyle finding his place in society, and their gratification of his time to help them. Eastwood is keen to show him as a man who never turned his back on America, regardless of public perceptions of the war he was involved in.
Bradley Cooper is an actor who hasn’t had the best of roles to prove his quality outside of his work with David O. Russell but he is perfectly cast as Kyle, not only for a resemblance in looks but in the quiet introspection of what he does, will do, and has done in the line of duty, something which, I would imagine, Kyle lived with for every day of his life. The quietest performances often go unnoticed, but Cooper’s subtlety cannot be ignored here.
After the rare misstep of Jersey Boys, this is Eastwood’s return to form to his near-best. Whether you see it as a war movie or a character study about the effects of war, American Sniper is powerful filmmaking. And one last point; to all film makers looking to add actual footage to the end of their movie for an emotional impact, look no further than right here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.