Through the trailers might suggest that Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is just another war movie with gratuitous violence attempting to appeal to a generation that loves pretending to be a sniper in Call Of Duty, I can assure you that it is definitely not the case and it is a glorious film.
The movie is based on the life of U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who is played by Bradley Cooper. American Sniper is a true story where most of the plot was derived from Kyle’s book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. There really are no spoilers in this review that you can’t simply find out by doing a Google Search on Chris Kyle because it is based on his life.
The film begins showing Kyle as a rodeo rider in Odessa, Texas. However a hand injury causes him to stop riding in the rodeo. The movie claims that the 1998 terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya compelled Kyle to enlist in the military. During training he meets his future wife Taya, who is played by Sienna Miller, at a bar. After going through months of rigorous training, Kyle is finally a member of one the most elite fighting forces in the world, the Navy SEALs.
Suddenly the United States is thrust into war after the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11 and Kyle is deployed to Iraq. That is where the legend of Chris Kyle is born. During four tours in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 Kyle was proclaimed the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history by accumulated 160 confirmed kills out of 255 probable kills. This tally obliterated the previous American record which was 109, set by Army Staff Sgt. Adelbert F. Waldron III, who served in Vietnam.
Under the watchful eye and protective trigger finger of Kyle, the brave Marines do the most dangerous job of going door-to-door flushing out terrorists in treacherous Fallujah, Iraq. Kyle is hellbent on finding and killing a high-ranking terrorist leader known as “The Butcher,” portrayed by actor Mido Hamada. In the movie, The Butcher has a strong penchant for killing his victims with a power drill.
While Kyle is the protagonist in the film, he squares off against an elusive rival who is killing American soldiers with precision. His name is Mustafa, a Syrian sniper and former Olympic marksman who loves to parkour.
One would think all of the drama would have the backdrop of war-torn Iraq, but it is actually when Kyle is back at home in sunny San Diego when much of the conflict arises. Kyle is attempting to live a normal life when he returns home to his family, but he has a difficultly in suppressing his passion of defending his nation and fellow soldiers. Taya desperately wants her husband to be at home to help raise their two children, but tour after tour Kyle returns to Iraq.
The wonderful part about this film is that it is not just a war movie, it also shows the vulnerability of soldiers returning from the battlefield. Not only the missing limbs from IED blasts, but the toll on a soldier’s mental health when they are faced with death every second of the day. Eastwood did an extraordinary job of highlighting how post-traumatic stress disorder affects soldiers when they return home. The film showcases how being in a foreign place for months where people are trying to murder you changes a person, even a Navy SEAL like Chris Kyle. Just imagine if you were on edge for nine straight months with bullets whizzing by your head, seeing fellow soldiers die and witnessing barbaric acts of violence and now you’re home driving a minivan to a barbecue. It’s just not that easy to decompress that fast.
While most of the movie portrays Kyle as nearly an invincible superhero, the latter portion shows how war made Kyle into a vulnerable, scared person just like everyone else. And by showing these flaws, it really humanizes Chris Kyle into a real-life person and not just some killing machine gunning down insurgent militants in the streets of Fallujah.
Cooper’s performance was remarkable. You could not tell that this Navy SEAL was Bradley Cooper. He went far outside of his acting comfort zone and really embraced the role. Bradley, who was a producer for the movie, not only put on a Southern accent, but also assumed the persona of a Texas cowboy. His mannerisms of a shell-shocked soldier riddled with PTSD was unbelievable. For my money this was Cooper’s finest piece of acting.
Sienna Miller did a superb job of portraying a military wife propelled into a thankless existence of raising two children by herself and not knowing if she would ever see her husband again. As Kyle’s wife Taya, she showed that it is just not the soldiers who suffer from war, it is also the families of soldiers that have to make a monumental sacrifice.
Eastwood really embraces the Middle Eastern setting and makes it into somewhat of a modern Western. There are gunslingers, firefights in the middle of the street, excruciating tension and unwelcoming dusty environments just like the Westerns that Eastwood starred in such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Individuals and media outlets have questioned the motives of making this movie because of Eastwood’s political affiliation. Some of the backlash claimed that the movie idolizes Kyle, who in the past has said negative comments about Iraqis. While others have said that Kyle is a liar.
When Cooper was asked about the political message of the movie he told The Daily Beast:
“My hope is that if someone is having a political conversation about whether we should or should not have been in Iraq, whether the war is worth fighting, whether we won, whether we didn’t, why are we still there, all those [issues], that really—I hope—is not one that they would use this movie as a tool for. And for me, and for Clint, this movie was always a character study about what the plight is for a soldier. The guy that I got to know, through all the source material that I read and watched, and home videos—hours and hours—I never saw anything like that. But I can’t control how people are gonna use this movie as a tool, or what they pick and choose whatever they want. But it would be short-changing, I think. If it’s not this movie, I hope to god another movie will come out where it will shed light on the fact of what servicemen and women have to go through, and that we need to pay attention to our vets. It doesn’t go any farther than that. It’s not a political discussion about war, even…It’s a discussion about the reality. And the reality is that people are coming home, and we have to take care of them.”
There may be some slight discrepancies between what’s in American Sniper and what really happened in Iraq. And while some may question the validity of the movie, we must remember that this is not a documentary, this is a Hollywood movie that is made to entertain the audience and I believe it did so in extraordinary fashion.
American Sniper has already reeled in $30.5 million on Friday, including $5.3 million in Thursday previews, which is a January opening day record as well as a record for an R-rated drama. It is also the biggest opening weekend for a movie Clint Eastwood directed and/or starred in movie. Gran Torino earned $29.5 million in it’s January 2009 release.
This is a thrilling film and could possibly be one of the greatest modern warfare movies of all-time. The patriotism will be coursing through you veins making you want to shout “USA! USA! USA!” and you might even get an overwhelming case of the feels.