American Sniper tells the story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the US gunman who is considered to be the deadliest sniper in American military history. The film tracks Kyle from his roots as a young boy in Texas to his days as a rodeo cowboy before he finally becomes a Navy seal. Along the way, Kyle meets Taya (Sienna Miller) and they start a family together. But soon after the 9/11 attacks, Kyle's entire life is changed forever.
Once the war in the Middle East begins, Kyle does four tours in Iraq and quickly becomes a legendary war hero. His precise skills and ability to handle pressure situations helps him save the lives of hundreds of soldiers and kill nearly 160 terrorists (possibly 250 depending on how much you believe what Kyle says). However, Kyle can't quite leave the war at home and the after-effects of war seep into his home life. American Sniper chronicles Kyle's journey through his four tours in the Middle East and his life on the home front before his tragic death in 2009.
Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller are the principle players in the story for most of the film, and there are very few supporting characters that the audience has the opportunity to get attached to. But that's okay, because Cooper and Miller create fascinating characters that manage to be consistently compelling throughout the entire film. Cooper's performance is both an impressive physical and emotional transformation. He looks and feels like Chris Kyle and he brings nuance and pathos to a rich and interesting man. Cooper also gained quite a bit of weight to play the husky Kyle, and that brings a strong touch of reality to the film.
While Cooper's performance has been praised by many (and rightfully so), Sienna Miller delivers equally mesmerizing work as Taya Kyle. She has to go through so many emotions when Chris returns home, and Miller is able to do so much with this character. It's a sweet and heartfelt performance and I feel like Miller should have definitely received some Best Supporting Actress attention.
What I found to be most interesting about American Sniper was the way that its plot was structured. The film opens with the tense and exciting battle sequence that has been heavily prominent in the TV advertisements and then quickly cuts back to Kyle's childhood (some of the weaker parts of the movie). There's a little bit in between about the time when Kyle met Taya and his Navy seal training, but we're quickly thrust into the Iraq. After that, battle sequences and Kyle's home life alternate, providing an intriguing look at the way the war affected Kyle and his family. Most films would deal completely with the war aspect and address the PTSD at the end, but American Sniper decides to take a much more interesting and route that benefits the film in the end.
The war sequences are intense, bloody and sometimes exciting. However, I found them to be strikingly redundant. None of the scenes feel overly distinguishable from each other, but I think that might be the true point. Each scene features Kyle going after a group of terrorists, before something awful happens and all hell breaks loose. Seemingly friendly Iraqi citizens betray his platoon and horrific acts are committed by a man known as "The Butcher." Throughout every tour, it's pretty much the same thing and you understand what kind of toll that takes on someone. During the final scene, as a storm of sand, bullets and helicopter fire surround him, Kyle finally says "I'm ready to come home." And you truly understand why he says that. It's a sad and powerful moment.
Clint Eastwood's direction is often really good, but occasionally lacking inspiration. There's an intensity that is pervasive throughout all of the battle scenes and that intensity is often carried over to the home life. But I have to say, I'm getting sick of Eastwood using the same color palate over and over again. The film has a distinctly bland look that makes it devoid of any style or flash. Most of the time, Sniper is able to overcome that because it is such an emotionally involving film, but I found some of the early scenes to be rather dry.
Despite those minor flaws, I still believe that American Sniper is special because it is so different from the other war films I've seen. Most have a pretty clear-cut, anti-war message: war is hell, look how bad it is, etc. American Sniper takes a different approach that I found to be endlessly fascinating: it's both a pro-war and an anti-war film. It has the stance that the war in Iraq was justified and that Kyle's actions were perfectly heroic, but the film also knows that war has a terrible effect on people that can't be shaken easily.
American Sniper is a very good film that provides a unique look at the Iraq war. It takes a little while to get going and some scenes are painfully awkward, but what you'll eventually get is an engaging and powerful look at two strong people affected by a war that is tearing them apart. Accompanied by great performances from Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, American Sniper is engrossing and compelling war cinema that delves into the psyche of one of modern warfare's most iconic figures.
THE FINAL GRADE: B+ (7.8/10)
Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter, Rama Screen, NY Post , Variety, Forbes, Screen Rant