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Movie Review | American Sniper (2014)


Director Clint Eastwood’s provocative adaptation of Chris Kyle’s memoir is an absorbing look into the life of a serviceman and the toll his work and departure takes on his family. Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle, the most lethal marksman in U.S. military history. A highly publicized angle to this story, it turns out to be a rather small part of the overall puzzle. What Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall choose to focus on instead is the impact these battles have on his personal life. Presented from a single-person viewpoint its commentary is shared with a blunt candor.

You can’t pull many punches with this material, it is in-your-face aggressive and it stirs a reaction that stays long after the credits roll. What it is has to say is at times chilling and infinitely haunting. The opening scene goes for the jugular as Kyle (Cooper) stares down the sights of his rifle to the unthinkable. Through flashbacks we learn how he arrived at this moment. He’s raised in a disciplined household, becomes a rodeo star, enlists as a NAVY SEAL and meets his future wife Taya (Sienna Miller). The two quickly embark on a life together and as their relationship grows more tenuous with every deployment, life at home proves to be a different kind of war zone. Storms of emotion brought on by a wife’s fear and a husband’s dazed apathy.

In “American Sniper” lies a character study that examines the heroism/protector mindset. It is the perspective that determines the directive and the film depicts Kyle struggling with a black and white approach to the ever complex moral conundrums he faces. The power of compartmentalization and its psychological aftermath is never shied away from here.  This is not a war movie in the vein of “Born on the Fourth of July”, there is no disillusionment. There is only a strengthening resolve. 
For Kyle’s wife and the mother of his children, she wishes that he was around to protect his family on a primary and permanent basis. Their conversations on the matter are not the kind regularly depicted in the genre, they are futilely anguished and raw. Replacing the screen time usually spent developing the relationship between comrades, married life takes center stage. It is this rarely vocalized side of the military narrative that gives the film one of its most thought-provoking edges.

In many ways “American Sniper” sets itself apart by coming out ahead of other similarly themed fare by tackling unspoken issues and in other ways falling short in its execution. As a film its crafting lacks the suspenseful tension of “The Hurt Locker”, the crucial levity of “End of Watch”, the educational detours of “Shooter”, the emotional intrigue of “Jarhead”, and the dark psycho-analysis of “Jack Reacher”. It is however leagues superior to “Zero Dark Thirty”, a movie that despite Jessica Chastain’s best efforts lacked the character depth “American Sniper” embodies by comparison.
Bradley Cooper is suitably understated in what is arguably his best performance to date. There are two scenes where he particularly manages to strike a chord. However, he never truly disappears into the skin of Kyle. Having poured over countless interviews with the real man, there was a lightheartedness that doesn’t come through in Cooper’s portrayal. The solemnity he portrays doesn’t allow for any emotional variance and his turn grows slightly stagnant as a result.

Sienna Miller gives a strong performance that resonates with its fervent sincerity. She portrays Taya’s evolution from the rough around the edges woman that Kyle meets in a bar to a concerned housewife and finally a caring mom with the weight of her family’s world on her shoulders. In terms of the love story portion of the film, Cooper and Miller fail to ignite the romantic spark necessary to really sell it. As pivotal as the portrayal of the Kyle’s marriage is to the movie, the chemistry just isn’t substantial enough to pull it off.

Another distracting part of the film is the utilization of baby dolls. At no point; do either of the actors actually hold a real baby, throwing off the crucial moments necessary to invest in the Kyle's as parents. The time span is also hard to follow. The movie takes place over a 10-year period but you never get the sense that much time has actually passed.

Biopics often offer the best side of its subject and “American Sniper” doesn’t busy itself with that. Disagree or agree; these were a real man’s thoughts on his experience, unabashed and mostly uncensored. Wading through all that is shown and stated is at times overwhelming. Walking away with an appreciation for what veterans and their families endure proves to be its most illuminating takeaway and it's a fine one. Rating: 7.3/10



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