Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Plot: Chris Kyle (Cooper) enlists in the Seals and makes it his mission to protect his comrades at any cost, racking up the legend of the sniper with the most kills in American history.
Snipers are the most glorified position in the army. Look at video games! Everyone wants to be that lone wolf crouching on a hill faraway, taking out an enemy with a cool headshot, using stunning accuracy. American Sniper could have been a movie about that, giving Bradley Cooper a role, where he plays the most dangerous sniper in the American army, hunting down the two notorious terrorists in the Middle-East. It was the movie I was expecting, especially with Twitter trending the opinion that this movie was essentially American propaganda. “The American military is the best in the world and everyone else needs to understand that. Hoo-rah!” But American Sniper was nothing like that; in fact, I found it the complete opposite. Clint Eastwood directs Chris Kyle as a man on the brink of falling apart. He could have made every sniper shot a slow-motion bloody kill (he does indulge himself with the finale, but this movie is meant to be entertaining as well as informative), but instead, we see a man whose morality fades away a little each time. Cooper sees a child with something metal in his hands and must make a snap decision whether he should kill the little boy or let him walk perilously close to his comrades with what could be a weapon. Whenever he kills someone from afar, he takes a moment to register the fact he has taken a life. It is all done subtly and there is rarely any over-acting breakdowns. But we still feel the struggle of the character and it is fascinating to watch his descent into cold killer over the course of the movie.
Bradley Cooper is given the job of getting all of this across and he does an admirable job. At the moment, he is the odd one out when it comes to the OSCAR nominations. The other contenders were incredible, but with Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn in Nightcrawler missing from the list, few wonder why Cooper got the place on the list. As I said, American Sniper takes a keen eye to pick out just how good Cooper is. At first, you might mistake his performance as a little two-dimensional. Cooper throws on a Texas drawl, bulks himself up to the size of a traditional, stars-and-stripes American and has him pledging his patriotism constantly. On the surface, there is nothing special going on here. But it is the smaller moments when you realise how insecure the character is. ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ allowed Cooper to fully tackle the emotions of his unstable performance, but with ‘American Sniper’, we could argue that Bradley Cooper needs to show the same sort of breakdown, but bottled up and hidden. The interesting thing about Chris Kyle’s post-traumatic stress is that he doesn’t register it himself. He sees these men out in the war, like his brother and his fellow soldiers, struggling with the war and he doesn’t share that opinion. For him, he is dedicated to saving as many men as possible while he is still fit and ready to fight. In his mind, he isn’t being affected by the war around him. Even when he returns home to spend time with his family, he is the only one who doesn’t realise he is so out of place, miles apart from the heart-warming scene where he meets Sienna Miller, his future wife, in a bar. One of the best scenes in the film is where Kyle meets a wounded soldier he saved on a previous tour and he cannot bring himself to bond with the man. Clint Eastwood’s direction is phenomenal here, using that same unjudgmental, minimalist style he made with Gran Torino and just letting the actors play their characters, as the camera bears all. Right there and then, we see just how Kyle’s mind is fractured from his time as a Sniper. He cannot even communicate with the people he is so dedicated to saving.
I was liking this movie fine, caught up in Bradley Cooper’s story and getting swept away with his hunt for a terrorist sniper that could be even better than him. Yes, the story of PTSD from the war has been done many times before, but Eastwood’s direction was so gripping, I didn’t mind spending time quietly getting to know the character. But the moment that really made this movie so great for me was the epilogue. There will be slight spoilers for the rest of the review, because this was based on a true story. If you unaware of the outcome of Chris Kyle’s life, perhaps you should scroll down to the final verdict. Many movies would have ended with Cooper getting killed, abandoning the family that needs him, or perhaps fading to a close, with him as a shell of his former self back in America. Deerhunter lacks a strong conclusion, telling the world about PTS and not really wanting to plod through an ending. However, American Sniper ends with Kyle piecing his life back together. It was a touching, remarkable change of pace. I felt that this was the point that Clint Eastwood wanted to make with this film and what attracted him to the project. It makes the closing shot even more tragic, but it does a fine job of cementing Chris Kyle’s status as a true, American hero.
Final Verdict: A touching, subtle insight in the life of a man who kills for a living. Clint Eastwood’s direction is keen, perhaps losing Man of the Match to Cooper’s precise performance.