Clint Eastwood has had one roller coaster of a career in film. He started out with old spaghetti westerns, giving Hollywood the most intense stares in film history. We felt lucky to see him dominate the screen in the 70s as Dirty Harry. Then he took a turn at directing with hits like Unforgiven (1992), Million Dollar Baby (2004), and Gran Torino (2008). Eastwood sort of fell off the map over the past couple of years with some lackluster films, but American Sniper (2014) is indeed a breath of fresh air for the director, as well as a career defining moment for star Bradley Cooper.
The film stars Cooper as Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who goes through four tours in Iraq during the War on Terror and makes a name for himself as a legend who has confirm-killed over 150 targets. The movie does tread on “Hollywood action film” ground at times but I felt that Eastwood did pull his punches to give audiences as grounded and riveting a movie as he could. Upon leaving the theater the film definitely had a grip on me. I felt like I had PTSD, myself, from watching that movie. I was lying in bed later that night with gun shots and Bradley Cooper swearing running around in my head.
Everything people are saying about Cooper in this movie is in fact true. He’s come a long way since raunchy comedies like Wedding Crashers (2005) and The Hangover (2009). Cooper portrays Kyle as a confident man who feels that he is doing “the right thing”, but at what cost? We see his personal life collide with his obligations with the SEALS and it affects everyone around him. The question that seems poignant to me throughout the movie is, “how much is enough?” How many tours can one man do before he is at peace with himself and feels like he has done his country service? To me, the movie seemed to take Chris Kyle BACKWARDS as opposed to forward. We first meet Kyle as a confident Texas man who feel invincible, but as we delve deeper, we realize just as he does how broken he is and how distant he has become with his family and himself. Truly a ground-breaking performance from Mr. Cooper. In fact, I’m willing to go on record and say I’m totally alright with him winning best actor (Since David Oyelowo didn’t get nominated and I haven’t seen Steve Carell in Foxcatcher (2014) or Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything (2014) yet).
The film does take some “artistic” liberties from the book that it is based off of. Some for the sake of storytelling being translated into film and some because Eastwood did need to take some personal approaches to such matters. If you head to History vs. Hollywood, you can actually read about all of the comparisons between Chris Kyle’s life in his book compared to the film (shoutout to my aunt for actually finding the article and sharing it with me). There were some choices that I did not entirely agree with, and one of those choices can be narrowed down to a single scene in the film involving a feud that Kyle has with a “rival” sniper. This one scene towards the film’s climax seemed out of place for me and took me out of the moment; and after reading this article and seeing that that scene was in fact altered for the screen, it makes all the more sense to me. Now that’s not the only flaw I found in the movie.
I did think that the second act was a little repetitive at times – what with Kyle returning state-side and his wife constantly badgering him to stay home and and not go back across the pond to Iraq because it’s tearing their family apart. While the repetitiveness agitated me at times, I wasn’t opposed to it because I’m sure that’s exactly how Kyle’s wife, Taya Renae Kyle (played stupendously by Sienna Miller), felt throughout his tenure in the SEALS. This movie showcases not only the personal Hells that soldiers must go through serving their country; but the Hells their families must go through watching body counts rise and worrying that one day they’ll see their spouse’s, or sibling’s, or friend’s names pop up on the nightly news.
While American Sniper has it’s loud and disorienting moments that really put you in the scene as if you’re raiding a home with Kyle and his SEAL team, there are plenty of quiet scenes in the movie as well. Quiet scenes that have a very complex connotation to them showing us not only Kyle the soldier, but Kyle the man. This film cannot avoid controversy, what with everyone on the internet blabbering on about it whether it’s good or bad (including myself); but I think if you take a step back and realize just how real this movie is, you can get behind it.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Great
By far Eastwood’s best film since the likes of Gran Torino, and this is a career defining moment for Bradley Cooper. It’s well filmed, well edited, and gives you not only the harsh realities of war – but the harsher realities of what can come after.
PS The trailer was probably the best trailer of 2014.
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