James Halcomb reviews this year’s most controversial film.
There is a moment in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ when Luke Skywalker notices a cave and asks Yoda, “What’s in there?” Yoda replies,” Only what you take with you.” That is how I felt walking in the theater watching ‘American Sniper.’ There is more than one moment in the film where audience reactions are based a great deal on your personality, your upbringing, and what you as a person have brought into the theater with you. End of political soap box.
So for the five of you who don’t know, ‘American Sniper’ is a 2014 American war drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall. The film is a loosely based on Chris Kyle’s autobiography “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.” The film accounts mainly for Kyle’s four tours as a sniper in Iraq following the 9/11 attacks and also deals with his personal life in trying to build a life and family with wife, Taya Renae Kyle, played by a criminally underused Sienna Miller.
Bradley Cooper is stellar in his portrayal of a man who was haunted, by his past, his present, his duty, and his future. His upbringing allows for him to develop a strong sense as a protector and during his time as a sniper he hangs over his fellow soldiers like an avenging angel that they more than once refer to as “The Legend.” The real Kyle was confirmed with around 166 kills, making him one of the deadliest snipers in U.S. history. His future is at home with his wife and kids, but Kyle is often shown to feel an extreme, maybe even obsessive, guilt over those he was unable to save and those, when he is home, fellow soldiers he left behind in Iraq.
When writer Jason Hall and director Eastwood, focus on Kyle’s tours in Iraq and his desire to take out, no matter what personal cost, the enemy sniper called “Mustafa,” the film was tight, exciting and built up some serious tension. The film is at times very real and violent and doesn’t shy away from that violence and the scars, physical and mental that can be left behind.
The scenes at home are where the film seems to struggle, while Miller and Cooper have great chemistry, they often feel needlessly obligatory to make Kyle seem more human, but it doesn’t give us a real sense of the effect his multiple tours were having on those who loved him at home.
Eastwood had to make a choice and I respect it, he decided to put his efforts in to making a haunting action film. I respect that choice, though it left a great deal off the table. ‘American Sniper’ is as much a biopic of Chris Kyle as ‘Funny Girl’ was of Fanny Brice; but as a tight and violent action film, and as a revelation for the excellent acting skills of Bradley Cooper, I thought the film more than delivered. The film gets three stars from me.