American Sniper chronicles the service of America’s deadliest military sniper, Chris Kyle. A film adapted from the book of the same name, written by Kyle, and swimming in posthumous controversy, even becoming the subject of a high profile lawsuit between the Chris Kyle Estate and former Minnesota Governor, Jesse Ventura.
Clint Eastwood, and screenwriter, Jason Hall, wisely and expertly avoid any of the book’s potentially misleading information in the screen adaptation, focusing solely on the military service, and the familial relations of the former Navy SEAL. The film is nothing less than captivating.
Bradley Cooper leads the way as Kyle in an understated, stellar performance reminding moviegoers that he is exactly what you hope for in a movie star.
Cooper’s tour de force is so genuine, you want to take up arms and get into the battle with the expert marksman.
There is never any denying the masculinity of a Bradley Cooper performance, and in undertaking the role of Chris Kyle, Cooper took his game to another level. He added impressive bulk to match Kyle’s physical presence, he offered authenticity from Kyle’s Texas roots and he dipped into the obsession of achieving battle goals, suggested by Kyle’s own words. Ultimately, he honors the former SEAL with his performance.
Entering the cinematic experience, I was concerned that Eastwood might venture too deep into the sentimentality of the family relations addressed within Chris Kyle’s story, and miss out on the decade-long pursuit of the Taliban sniper, Mustafa, who became known as Kyle’s nemesis. While American Sniper certainly presents sentiment–the chemistry between Cooper and Sienna Miller is superb–Eastwood and his actors expertly craft the element, allowing it to simmer below the surface, creating for increased complexity as the story moves forward. This adds even more tension to the battle scenes.
The pace of American Sniper is a return to Eastwood in fine form. Since the overrated release, and odd critical acclaim of Gran Torino, six years ago–and with the exception the underrated Invictus–Eastwood seemed to have lost some of his directorial swagger. Perhaps that should be blamed on actors who were not to the same level of cinematic understanding as Eastwood, or didn’t understand the weight on their shoulders to deliver something more than “being directed.”
There is not a scent, sight or sound of such an issue within American Sniper–a perfect palate cleanser for the audience member who endured Eastwood’s Jersey Boys earlier this year. It is Eastwood doing what he does best. The heart you remember from Million Dollar Baby. The grind you remember from Unforgiven.
Thomas Stern’s cinematography lends itself to the isolation and chaos of soldiers in combat, juxtaposed with the daily mundane found in civilian life. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of the look of movies shot on Arri Alexa. Great camera. Gorgeous image. Great for TV. Lacking something for narrative features. But that is something that few audience members will actually see, and it’s merely the opinion of a film apologist.
The story is well crafted into the post-service life of Chris Kyle, and allows the audience to understand Kyle’s eventual fate–a sobering reminder that life offers more than its fair share of irony.
For fans of military movies, complex family dynamics, bad-ass Navy SEALs, Bradley Cooper and movies well-worth your buck, American Sniper is sure to please.
American Sniper opens nationwide, Christmas Day. Rated-R for violence, language and brief sexuality.