How does a film that chronicles the true, history-making military sniper manage to hit more emotional marks correctly than action scenes? That is because American Sniper has the talented trifecta of director Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle and Sienna Miller as his wife, Taya.
Kyle was the U.S. Navy SEAL who is credited with more kills than any other sniper in U.S. military history. Kyle did four tours in Iraq and compiled over 160 kills of enemy troops that most likely saved a hundred times more lives than he took. Eastwood chooses to balance his film by showing a war on two fronts -- the decimated urban battlefields of the Middle Eastern country and the disturbing war that every veteran experienced trying to meld back into society at home.
As teased in the American Sniper trailer, we meet Kyle as a man who wants nothing more than to be a cowboy. He is a true Texan, from his upbringing hunting with his father to his adoration of country music and riding bulls. Then, watching TV one night, he sees images of the U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa and is motivated to join the service. He finds himself in Navy SEAL training and as it turns out, those hunting skills come in handy as it becomes immediately clear that Kyle is an incredibly talented marksman.
Then 9/11 happens and as he and his wife watch their TV in horror, he realizes that what he is fighting for could never be so important. We won’t bother delving into the issue we immediately have in that Kyle fought in four tours of Iraq, not exactly the country responsible for the September 11 attacks.
But Eastwood and Cooper paint Kyle as a man who is all about duty. And that complicates things when he is back on the home front. Taya often states that even though Chris is home, she feels that he’s “not there.” And frankly, he isn’t. These moments paint the true sacrifice our soldiers make in that American Sniper could also be seen as a study in PTSD and how to handle it.
Eastwood recovers as a director after his mediocre work on Jersey Boys. But, American Sniper is still far from his best. It does a lot well, but only a few things are truly great. We get the sense that Kyle is a true patriot and an American hero. But other than showing us why, we never truly understand the meaning of the reasons that this person is to be saluted for what he did.
The real reason to see the film, our American Sniper review can report, is Cooper.
He completely transforms himself -- physically and emotionally. We’ve never seen him so bulked up and yet so weak on the inside. One can imagine that pulling the trigger 160 times and being responsible for the deaths of fellow humans would weigh on someone -- even if by doing so other Americans are still alive.
In those moments where he is lining up his sights on his target, Cooper says so much with his face -- it is astounding. The man has come a long way as an actor and if American Sniper is his next Oscar nomination (which we think it will be), it is more than deserved. But we feel that Cooper’s best work is (scarily) still ahead of him.
Another thing that sets American Sniper off course is two thirds through the war portion of the film Cooper’s Kyle decides he feels he can do more on the ground than laying on some rooftop picking off the enemy. He is a trained SEAL after all. Yet, this is where the film seems to go off the rails a bit. The film is called American Sniper, after all. Let’s fully tell that guy’s story.