American Sniper (R) ★★★★

Bradley Cooper stars is "American Sniper." Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Bradley Cooper stars is “American Sniper.” Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Sniper Story Hits Hearts

Director Clint Eastwood’s latest film may be his best since 2008’s Gran Torino and Changeling. The bio-drama American Sniper is based on United States Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s autobiography, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.

This incredible true story stars a beefed-up (forty pounds heavier) Bradley Cooper (Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014) as Kyle and the almost unrecognizable Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher, 2014) as his wife, Taya. Kyle was recognized as the deadliest operative in United States Navy history with more than 160 confirmed kills, including Al Qaeda members, women, and their children, if absolutely necessary. It’s important not to get the wrong impression, however. Kyle was far from malicious or mean-hearted. In fact, Kyle is so devoted to his country – almost to a fault. When off of tours, he is at home, but not actually ‘present.’ He is helplessly emotionless and withdrawn. His mind is back in Iraq, thinking about his next move. Every noise he hears and reflection he sees triggers his sniper mindset and he can’t turn it off.

The film, set during the Iraq War, immediately opens with a suspenseful scene, which sets the caliber of emotion that this film carries. Kyle must make a split second decision that may take innocent lives and haunt him forever. We bounce back and forth between life on tour and life at home, while witnessing Kyle and Taya’s relationship evolve and digress. We witness Kyle’s reality of trying to cope with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while trying to juggle his main prioritizes God, country, and family. The film doesn’t have a political agenda. It simply illustrates the sacrifice, hardship and tragedy of war, overseas and at home, through the mindset of someone who experienced it all.

American Sniper won’t gain its reputation with its special effects, blood bath scenes or combat chaos. This wartime movie’s raw and emotional story will hit hearts and leave a lasting impression. Some viewers may recognize similarities with Cooper’s character and Jeremy Renner’s in The Hurt Locker (2008). Renner’s character, Sergeant First Class William James, is also a specialist, an IED diffuser who experiences similar battle situations and finds it exceptionally difficult to adjust to life at home.

Eastwood successfully balances powerful intensity and extreme emotion throughout this drama. The flashbacks of Kyle’s childhood hunting days with his father, to the contrasting scenes of the battleground and his home life are all intertwined. While there are no wasted scenes, the film could have added on a few extra minutes at the end to make it feel less rushed. We spend so much time getting to know Kyle, and there is still more to be learned after he finishes his last tour. This quick, post-war ending may cause some viewers to feel slightly cheated. I must also mention my frustration with one scene where Kyle and Taya are bickering while in their daughter’s nursery. Kyle is holding his baby daughter, but it is clearly a doll as she bears no weight, and he moves her tiny hand for her.

Cooper’s performance in this film is extraordinary, possibly one of his best alongside The Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and some may argue, American Hustle (2013). Miller is also excellent in her strong, independent role alongside her man.

I was shocked to learn that Cooper wasn’t nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Fingers are crossed that someone commends this film at the 2015 Academy Awards and grants it the accolades it deserves. 

Bottom-Line? While American Sniper is a movie about war, it’s unfair to assume it’s ‘just like the rest.’ The heart of the story focuses on Kyle’s (Bradley Cooper) personal sacrifice for his country and the physical and mental toll that the experience had on him. Cooper truly impresses audiences with his acting chops in this bio-drama.

Cast: Bradley Cooper (Chris Kyle), Sienna Miller (Taya), Ben Reed (Wayne Kyle), Luke Grimes (Mac Lee), Kyle Gallner (Goat-Winston)

Credits: Directed by Clint Eastwood; Written by Jason Hall

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

Run Time: 134 minutes

Jessica Aymond © January 10, 2015