Chris Kyle is the most deadly sniper in US military history, with an astonishing 160 kills to his name. His stretch as a Navy SEAL on and off-duty is documented in war drama ‘American Sniper’, directed by Clint Eastwood and based on Kyle’s autobiography of the same name. Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was sent to Iraq following the September 11 attacks of 2001, leaving behind his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) to become a highly respected figure among the American forces, and dubbed ‘the Devil of Ramadi’ by Iraqi insurgents. The film has a clear target, aiming directly at the mindset of the protagonist, and how circumstances of warfare affect him psychologically as he serves four tours for god and country. Shrouded in controversy because of the arguably misguided patriotism and political themes throughout, this biopic isn’t your typical war movie, but is the filmmaker’s directorial vision as clear as that of the marksman himself?
A hugely intense opening scene immediately places the audience at the heart of the conflict, and we get a glimpse into the laid-back psyche of Chris Kyle before his run of kills. Flashbacks and the structure of the narrative then go on to illustrate an acute character study, tracking the pressures he faced during his childhood, his American Dream-like family life and of course his experiences of the war on terror. Bradley Cooper’s impressive performance goes a long way to giving a strong portrayal of Kyle, his inner traumas demonstrated through his facial expressions rather than his words. His priorities become increasingly blurred as his need to defend his country outweighs his responsibilities as a husband, and as a father. Creative flourishes to dramatise scenarios and introduce an arch-nemesis figure cheapen the true events as the plot develops, meaning that the marital drama, which is possibly the most interesting aspect of the film plays second fiddle to repetitive shoot-outs. As a result of this, Sienna Miller doesn’t get the screen time she deserves as Kyle’s suffering wife, but when she is called upon, she is used effectively.
Despite being marred by a fictionally heightened sense of heroism, ‘American Sniper’ is a solid addition to the modern-war genre, boosted by the two central acting performances. Cooper’s turn offers some insight and understanding of the narrow mental state of those fighting for their country, and the struggles they encounter when trying to adjust back into their day-to-day lives. I feel there’s been much stronger leading male performances across the year of cinema, but the timing of the release and the subject matter have no doubt contributed to his third consecutive Oscar nomination. Chris Kyle, though not an entirely likeable personality, has a fascinating story that deserves to be told and Clint Eastwood delivers a cinematic tribute that strays between gripping and grim.
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