Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) stars as Navy Seal, Chris Kyle, who in his four tours of Iraq, was credited with over 160 confirmed kills.
After witnessing the horrors of war on the news after a night at the rodeo, Chris Kyle decides to put his hunting experience into good use and joins the Navy Seals. In four years, Kyle became the most prolific sniper is US Military History.
Cooper's performance here is nothing short of fantastic, he portrays Kyle as a man torn between his duty as a soldier and his duty as a husband and father. Cooper solidifies his place among the greatest talents to be revealed in recent years with the most nuanced and powerful performance of his career.
Hollywood royalty, Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino), directs this bombastic yet blunt war film that structurally is not unlike a western. Two incredible snipers, one on each side of the war, hunt each other until their inevitable showdown at the finale. Eastwood's choice in direction here was ambitious and surprising, playing a war film out as a western is not seen often and I admired his creative decision to do so.
There's not a whole lot of strategy scenes in "American Sniper", Eastwood instead decides to throw us out on the front lines, delivering very well shot extensive action scenes.
The film switches back and forth between Kyle serving in the military and Kyle at home, with his wife played by the increasingly impressive Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher). They marry and go on to have two children. Of course the events that happen overseas take a toll on Kyle's home life, whenever he's home, he's not really there as his wife points out several times.
Whilst on his tours, Kyle endures some tough ordeals, not only when saving his men but also knowing whether or not to shoot a target. Sometimes he'll have his scope aimed in on a definite hostile, other times a child holding a grenade because he was ordered to do so. Kyle is forced to do unimaginable things to secure the safety of his men.
There is little to no attempt at ever humanizing the enemy. Kyle is nicknamed "Legend" for his long ranged kills of the enemy forces. The enemy are portrayed as evil, despicable men, so when Kyle takes one out from his sniper's nest, there is almost no emotional heft to the situation.
Back home, we see difficulties ensue between Chris and his wife who rightfully complains that he is too distant, never feeling like he's come home. When Kyle finishes his four tours and comes home for good, he gets help to deal with his PTSD and helps over soldiers recover from the same issues. Of course this hospitality led to Kyle's death at the hands of a soldier at a gun range. This aspect of Kyle's life, which may be the most fascinating, feels glossed over as do many aspects of the character of Kyle.
Eastwood presents Chris Kyle as an all American hero, and to anyone who has read extracts from Kyle's autobiography, this portrayal feels almost dishonest. Kyle has admitted to things that shined a negative light of him, yet those situations are never brought up in the film.
Sienna Miller is subtle and great in her cliche'd role of the wife who longs for Chris to return home and help her raise their family who tells her husband even when he's home, 'he's not really there'.
What is so unfortunately unsatisfying about "American Sniper" is that Eastwood makes no judgment at all, on Chris Kyle or the war he was fighting in. This is a biopic that is unfair about its protagonist, painting him as a hero when he held views that many would not deem heroic.
What could have been a character study of Kyle with his conflicting views becomes a distressingly one sided war film that is uncomfortably patriotic.
Kyle's nemesis as it is portrayed gets no treatment whatsoever in terms of being humanized, we don't get a viewpoint from the other side of the war, which I believe was what Steven Spielberg wanted to do when he was originally signed on to direct the film.
"American Sniper" is a good film with some unfortunately troubling issues that will divide audiences, its far from Eastwood's best.