“You can only circle the flames so long.”
Behind almost every pull of a trigger lies a lot of weight and impact. Not just on the person pulling it, but those connected to said person. American Sniper is the story of Texan Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). As a youngster, it is clear Chris has a desire to protect those around him, a value instilled in him by his father. Still, the Texas lifestyle lends itself to making a good and fun living as a cowboy, a living Kyle enjoys.
It isn’t until he sees a television report of a terrorist attack that he begins to question what he is really doing with his life, which leads to enlisting into the Naval program. In training, Chris hones his raw and already-existing marksman skills, and finds a woman in his down time in Taya (Sienna Miller) who eventually becomes his wife and mother of his children. Shortly after marriage, Chris is deployed to Iraq, where he quickly makes a name for himself in combat; being hailed as “The Legend.” But the horrors of war are real, and no matter how many times Chris is home, each tour takes a little something out of him.
Films about war and patriotism seem to pierce viewers different ways. With any, there are those who may be offended with said war film’s message and deride it as propaganda, while others may not see one. Yours truly can only speak for himself, but American Sniper is pretty devoid of—let’s call it a visible slant. It is tense, tightly directed, well-acted, and one of the best of 2014/2015.
Instead of focusing on the politics or the glory that comes with performing miraculous deeds, director Clint Eastwood (Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima) chooses to focus upon the man and the mental aftermath that arises because of the acts he commits. He accomplishes the former by presenting a substantial yet still brief look at what made Kyle who he is and why he is so. During this beginning part of the movie, the investment into the main character is forged. He isn’t perfect by any means, but the duty he possesses towards protecting others is one to connect with. This duty factor is a question that is continuously asked as the movie progresses. To where should Kyle’s duties lie, and are they nestled together like he believes?
And for the latter, while the reasons of fighting will never be universally agreed upon, almost everyone would likely agree that war more often than not leaves an indelible mark that is a struggle to deal with for all involved. Nothing here is glorified or lessened in effect. The realities and subsequent effects of war are cold, harsh, and unforgiving.
With that said though, the movie looks and sounds pretty splendid. Eastwood certainly knows how to capture full-scale warfare. No dazzling flair, which would have likely cheapened the intended grounded effect, is found, but the approach is suitably straightforward. Every trigger squeezed and RPG launched carries audible weight, but the moments where nothing but silence exists are true high marks. They carry insane amounts of tension and make the firefights all the more impressive. It all adds up to effective pacing, with the only misfire being near the end. The last 15-20 minutes do feel a tad rushed.
Bradley Cooper completely immerses himself into the role of Chris Kyle. His adopted Texas accent never wavers, he physically looks the part, and he superbly displays the difficulties Chris has to grapple with, often in split seconds, throughout. He is a killing machine, but not a completely soulless one. He never relishes in carrying the title of “The most lethal sniper in U.S. History,” he just goes about his business. Cooper has been gaining praise for his skills for a while now, but if anyone were looking for another, perhaps really serious and transforming role from him, this work would be the evidence shown.
Of course, this vehicle is Cooper’s, but Sienna Miller is good and does what is needed as Kyle’s wife. The role is somewhat cookie-cutter and there are one or two moments in which she is sort of wooden, but for what the character is nothing is glaringly off-putting. This sentiment can be said for most everyone else in the movie as well, with the only difference being they don’t stand out like the wife does. Sure, a few are remembered more so than others, but the large majority just fill out the spaces needed.
American Sniper is basically the film yours truly expected it to be after viewing that initial trailer where so much silence was utilized. Gripping, intense, and a no-frills take at what the warzone does to one’s mental state. 132 or so confirmed minutes of exceptional drama.
Photo credits go to heavy.com, blogs.wsj.com, and Collider.com
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