Friday, January 16, 2015


From 1999 through 2009, U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle became known as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history; scoring 160 confirmed kills through four tours in Iraq. The enemy placed a bounty on his head which reached six figures, and his fellow soldiers called him “legend”. His story is indeed the stuff fables are made of, and to deconstruct the legend to discover the man is a job requiring that gentle human touch. Enter director Clint Eastwood and AMERICAN SNIPER. 

Texas-born good-ol-boy Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) joins the U.S. Navy SEAL team in a desire to serve his country. As his skills as a sniper improve and the kills mount up, he finds himself juggling the career of dedicated soldier and his family, which includes two kids and his wife Taya (Sienna Miller). 

Based on Kyle’s own memoirs, AMERICAN SNIPER takes us through the man’s life step-by-step…from his first kill as a young hunter, to his enlistment, to his first true love and to his first shocking kill as a soldier. The drama unfolds naturally as Kyle takes on tour after tour in Iraq with a monumental sense of duty to his country and exploring his time back home with his family. The structure is repetitive but effective, for each tour and eventual break/trip home comes with raised stakes. The battles and situations become more deadly, and his relationship with his wife and kids become strained as all the killings begin to affect his psyche. 

What Eastwood does effectively is grapple with the age-old question; can a lethal killer also have a soul? This is turned into Kyle’s struggle with being a loyal soldier and a family man, and the ups-and-downs he encounters makes AMERICAN SNIPER a very human story. Despite all the killings and time spent on the battlefield, Eastwood gives a very clear and intimate look at the soul of a soldier. It is a true character-piece if ever there was one. 

Eastwood’s style in presenting AMERICAN SNIPER is very simple and effective. The film doesn’t feel like standard Hollywood fare in the least, as there is no over-dramatic music, acting, or predictable arcs. The film has a very natural feel and an outright unabashed dedication to realism. For most of the ride it feels like Eastwood just dropped a camera into the middle of the Iraq war, only it never feels voyeuristic. The battle scenes, ambushes, raids, and sniper-showdowns are harrowing, and Eastwood strikes that perfect balance between celebrating the dedication of soldiers without glorifying war. 

The massive undertaking of portraying Chris Kyle is handled in superb fashion by Bradley Cooper. This is a transformative appearance for him; not only because he gained pounds of muscle but because the performance is so raw and real. Cooper bears the soul of Kyle and lets us in on the conflict between family man and soldier, and it is a journey that has us gripped from the opening scenes. Sienna Miller is equally effective and fully embraces and carries the burden of the struggling wife left at home alone, who is even more alone when the soldier comes home. By far, this is a career-performance by both Cooper and Miller. 

The finale is a powerful emotional wallop which will either have you staggering out of the theatre or reaching for a handkerchief, and it is only then when we realize how connected we are to the characters. The emotion sneaks up on you, and makes for a fulfilling and long-lasting cinematic experience. Clint Eastwood has crafted a great film about a man who became a hero; and those are greatest kind of war films. 


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