AMERICAN SNIPER
Author: J.A. Hyde
January 15, 2015

SYNOPSIS: From director Clint Eastwood comes American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. But there was much more to him than his skill as a sharpshooter.

U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname "Legend." However, his reputation is also growing behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. He is also facing a different kind of battle on the home front: striving to be a good husband and father from halfway around the world.

Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, personifying the SEAL creed to "leave no man behind." But upon returning to his wife, Taya Renae Kyle (Sienna Miller), and kids, Chris finds that it is the war he can't leave behind.

American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, is a tour-de-force for Bradley Cooper. In fact, Cooper’s performance is the foremost reason to see this biopic of Navy Seal Chris Kyle.

Eastwood, not known for subtlety, gives us a compelling, but slightly out of balance picture of America’s deadliest sniper. Spending the majority of the film presenting the harrowing and gruesome Iraqi War scenes that earned Kyle the nickname “Legend”, Eastwood neglects Kyle’s equally impressive recovery from PTSD.

Opening with a shot of Kyle lying in wait on a rooftop, the story flashes back to Kyle as a child. After nabbing his first buck on a father-son hunt, his father tells him he has a gift. Later, at the dinner table, Kyle’s father imparts his philosophy of humankind. To summarize briefly, he says that most people are “sheep,” innocent and naïve types who are unaware of the evil that threatens them, who must be protected from the evil-doers, “wolves.” The protectors, endowed with the aggression and skill to guard the sheep, are the “sheepdogs.” His words set the scene for Kyle’s fairly simplistic view of good and evil – if you are good, you are obligated to fight evil.

Before acting on this philosophy, Kyle is just another Texas cowboy riding the rodeo circuit. His “Come-to-Jesus” moment happens as he watches news coverage of the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. His patriotism roused, he enlists in the Navy, even though he’s a bit on the older side at 30, and takes on the rigorous training to be a SEAL.

Kyle also meets and marries Taya (Sienna Miller), and starts a family. Their happiness is interrupted by the events of 9/11, and Kyle is deployed on his first tour in Iraq. In all, he completes four tours. He’s in denial about the effects of war on him even though the symptoms of PTSD become more and more obvious during his leaves. Taya begs him to “come back” to her and their son and daughter and restore their once-happy family life.

The turning point for Kyle occurs during the moving scene shown in the film’s trailer – Kyle wanting to return home but stopping in a bar first, unable to process his emotions. As he tries to stifle his tears, we finally see his character as more than one-dimensional. The remainder of the film deals with his acknowledging the effect of his deployments, and his recovery through helping other disabled vets. All of this is compressed into the last 20 minutes of the 2 ½ hour film. It’s here that the film lacks balance. Kyle’s impressive recovery is every bit as amazing as his feats as a sniper; yet Eastwood hurries us through these events as if they happened in a matter of days rather than years.

Bradley Cooper’s brilliant performance would have been even more impressive if he had been allowed to explore the complexity of a man’s reckoning with his battlefield experiences. As it is, Cooper comes as close as possible to the physical appearance and mannerisms of the real Chris Kyle (revealed in photos of the real Kyle shown at the end of the film). He also nails the Texas accent that so many non-Texan actors butcher. Cooper is from Pennsylvania, so, as a native Texan, I was impressed!

Aside from the lack of balance in the storyline, the film is a must-see for Bradley Cooper’s award-worthy performance. - JoAnne Hyde

GRADE: B


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