The art of war is a very delicate subject. Why soldiers fight, and how they fight, will probably always be a subject that is taboo. But, no matter how you feel about war, there is no denying that it takes someone with a special constitution to voluntarily thrust themselves into the filth of it. American Sniper gives us a fascinating glimpse inside the life of the noblest of the sort.
Films by Clint Eastwood (Jersey Boys, J.Edgar, Gran Torino) can be an acquired taste. They often flutter around with no clear intent or perspective or they give off a certain sense of gloom that saps the energy out of everyone watching. Luckily, here he has a subject that would be difficult to mismanage. The film follows the memoirs of U.S. Navy Seal, Chris Kyle. A man documented as the greatest sniper in our country’s history.
At the start, the film seems too much like a movie and not enough like the recount of an actual person’s life. We begin with shots of Kyle’s childhood where he beats up a bully for hurting his younger brother then receives a seemingly made-for-movie speech from his father about sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. These scenes are relevant, but so hurried and overblown that they feel like the intro to a superhero movie. Luckily, things pick up when Kyle (Bradley Cooper) decides to quit his life as a cowboy and join the navy in his mid-30s.
Bradley Cooper has come a long way since his days of playing comedic tools in films like Wedding Crashers and The Hangover. Here, he takes his game to new heights. I’d never heard of Chris Kyle a.k.a. “The Legend” as he was known in the military circuit, and odds are you haven’t either. So, a poor performance could’ve easily made this man seem like a naive, robotic, jarhead brainwashed by the American ideal of patriotism. But instead, Cooper is utter perfection. He portrays Kyle with fierce passion and nobility that makes him feel like a true, flawed hero.
Thanks to Cooper, this Chris Kyle feels as real as if we knew him. Cooper guides us through every emotional moment, from each conflicting kill, ranging from maniacal butchers to women and children in the name of protecting his fellow soldiers, to Kyle’s bouts with post traumatic stress disorder after returning home to his wife (an equally brilliant Sienna Miller) and kids. The film also succeeds through several solid supporting roles (Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman) and also manages to address the controversial perspectives of the “War on terror” through the eyes of the men engulfed in it.
There is nothing enjoyable about war. War is always horrific and grim, and movies on the subject share the same sentiments. In that sense, American Sniper is just like any other war film. Luckily, we have stellar performances to help an otherwise dull film transcend into something incredibly compelling.
FINAL GRADE: B+