Saturday, January 17, 2015

American Sniper: Movie Review

A complex character portrait of a complicated issue.

What we have here is an anti-war film disguised as patriotism, a character study under the guise of action and war, and a character declared as a hero who may or may not be a hero. Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is the celebrated Iraq War veteran, a deadly sniper with over 160 kills. American Sniper is his tragic story revealing the mess that war leaves behind. Not just wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and children, but the psychological remnants of murder. 2014

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Screenplay by: Jason Hall
Based on book by Chris Kyle

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

The film opens in Iraq and Kyle on his first tour about to make his first kill. A woman gives her child a grenade, and it's up to Kyle to kill them and save the lives of his fellow American soldiers. While his partner next to him celebrates crassly, Chris Kyle has to deal with the fact that he just killed a mother and a son because his country told him to. And that's where the brilliance of this film comes in, every war scene – every kill – is about what it does to Kyle psychologically. It's not about killing people, it's about the price of war on everybody and everything.

Chris Kyle is patriotic. He lives and breathes the stars and stripes and he will literally do anything to preserve the American way. After all, that's how he was raised. He loves hunting, guns and his country; and knows that real men protect their own. That's been instilled in him since he was a child, so when the Twin Towers were attacked, he joined the Navy SEALs and gave them everything he had. At first he comes across as your typical gun-loving jackass, but scenes where he accepts what happens to him (girlfriend cheating on him), and being a gentleman to a girl at a bar, really hits home. This guy does deserve our sympathy. Star Bradley Cooper does a fantastic job of giving Kyle some charm in a Hollywood manner, but really getting to the roots of what war is going to do to him.

Back in Iraq, Kyle doesn't handle all the blood on his hands all that well, but he's at war, there's a job to be done, and he's good at it. And his fellow soldiers love him for it. Not before long, they have hailed him as a hero and he steps up as a leader to save as many American lives as possible. He rises through the ranks with more confirmed kills to his credit. But when the tour ends, it's time to come home. He has a pregnant wife who needs him.

But Kyle lives in a very strange world. One that none of us could ever truly understand. He lives in a world where war is better, safer and more logical than at home where he has a loving wife and family. The film does a great job at helping us understand how Kyle could live in a world like that. And so he goes back again and again.

The early war scenes were very tactical. Appealing not just to the emotional side but the analytical side of viewers – further connecting us to Kyle and his place in war. But the war scenes keep coming. Kyle completes four tours, and it takes all four tours until the war starts dragging (especially to us) and completely nonsensical (to us and Kyle). And it's time for him to come home.

Home doesn't come easy to Chris Kyle, who has now killed somewhere between 160 and 255 people. And wife Taya tries to get him the help that he needs. The US government was surprisingly helpful but there's an unending feeling that not enough can be done. War is tragic in many, many ways.

Director Clint Eastwood is a famous Republican, but contrary to popular belief, I think he has less in common with the party line as he gets older. His recent films have dealt with women's strength and power, homosexuality and now anti-war themes. American Sniper succeeds because it doesn't just take one line. It's an extremely complicated issue – one that Chris Kyle and I have completely opposite views on – but it is sympathetic to veterans, shows the tragedies of war and allows the viewers to form their own opinions.

Similar Titles:

J. Edgar (2011) - Presenting a hero but not defining hero versus villain.

Foxcatcher (2014) - A cold atmosphere for a heartless act.

Lone Survivor (2013) - Hilarious dialogue and ridiculous war scenes make an odd mix.