American Sniper follows Navy Seal Christopher Scott Kyle, the most decorated sniper in United States military history with 160 confirmed kills and another 95 claimed, through his military career of four tours in Iraq. The film, which follows the tradition of Saving Private Ryan, succeeded in being extremely graphic and honest. Slow scenes that are completely free of violence break the tension, but remain riveting. The movie perfects the art of emotionally affecting viewers. The opening scene sets the tone. Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) stares down the barrel of .300 Win Mag sniper rifle at a young Iraqi boy who appears to be carrying a RKG-3 anti-tank grenade towards U.S. troops. Kyle must to decide to shoot the potential threat or let what could be an innocent child get dangerously close to the marines below him.
The scene cuts and shows a younger Chris Kyle at the dinner table with his southern father who explains that there are three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheep-dogs. The sheep do not know how to protect themselves, the wolves use their strength to prey upon the weak, and lastly the sheep-dogs, “are those who have been blessed with the gift of aggression and the overpowering need to protect their flock.” This short flashback shows Kyle’s self image as a sheep-dog who lives to confront the wolf.
Kyle spends his four tours protecting the troops despite a $20,000 bounty on his, and all other sniper’s, heads.
Bradley Cooper, formerly known for his comedic roles in The Hangover series and American Hustle, broke out of his comfort zone with a stellar performance. He essentially “brought Kyle back to life,” according to writer-producer Jason Hall. Cooper gained 40 pounds of muscle and watched hours of Kyle’s interview film to perfect his role.
Cooper handles the emotional jump between scenes in Ramadi, looking down a sniper rifle, and scenes where he holds his newborn child at home. He captures the blank stare of a traumatized soldier. Kyle’s wife Taya (Sienna Miller) tells him that she can see him and feel him, but he’s not really there. Miller shows the physical, emotional, and psychological stresses of standing by her husband’s side while he endures the dangers of multiple tours in Iraq. While the movie belonged to Cooper,
Miller accents him perfectly. The pair pack a punch.
Critics have accused Eastwood of glossing over the United States’ involvement in Iraq. But the movie is about one man’s controversial military life and his struggles at home, not about Eastwood’s politics. The already two-and-a-half hour long film focuses on a warrior’s life, struggles that United States military personnel face on a daily basis.
Was he a hero? Maybe. Was he a killer? Yes. Did he deserve the attention his memoir and film has received? Absolutely. The movie finishes without music and people file out of dark movie theaters all over the country in complete silence.
~gavin cranford, co-editor in chief