Firmly situated behind a rifle with feet planted, eyes peering through a narrow lens and finger carefully placed on a trigger, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) watches an Iraqi woman hand over a metal canister to a young boy. The two slowly approach the coming U.S. soldiers as Kyle prays to God they don’t do anything that will make them get killed.
“That was evil like I had never seen before,” he says under his breath, setting the tone for the difficult events to take place the rest of the movie.
In director Clint Eastwood’s latest film “American Sniper,” his combat war drama follows the tale of Kyle who is noted as the deadliest sniper in U.S. history (an impressive 160 confirmed kills to his name). We follow Kyle as he serves and survives four tours of duty in Iraq as his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) struggles with his absence at home on the verge of birthing a new family.
All throughout, this deeply intimate and careful character study of Kyle allows Cooper to provide a compelling performance, whose unrelenting all-American morale and episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder allow us to understand Kyle on a level beneath the surface. Eastwood also confidently portrays the brutality of war, acknowledging both its senseless aims and utter necessity, that he provides a more honest account of war and heroism than what we are normally used to.
We flashback to Kyle’s early Texan childhood–with a convincing Texan accent by Cooper–who displays his skilled shooting skills as a young boy. We see that he had a brief career as a rodeo cowboy before enlisting in the Navy SEALs. It is then that we endure an agonizingly brutal and extensive training regimen with Kyle, which he carries out miraculously and unfazed. His pure devotion to his country is almost incomprehensible; but his gifted talent in sniping out Iraqi insurgents–or anyone that can be called a “savage”–makes any soldier under his wing feel “invincible.”
We are continually led through gripping series of skirmishes barging into Iraqi homes and performing nighttime ambushes; Kyle becomes frustrated at one point by the lesser-trained Marines that he relentlessly goes down from his standpoint onto the ground to help lead his troops on the hunt to take down the Al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, nicknamed the “Butcher,” following 9/11. This leads to the hunt to find the equally lethal Syrian-born sniper Mustafa, whose skills rival Kyle’s and frustratingly take down many of his men.
As we watch Kyle swiftly snipe out the enemy–at many times hesitatingly–at his own emotional toll, Eastwood intimately illuminates the inner complications of Kyle. He fights for his fellow man and is responsible for saving the lives of many of his men that one wonders if he has a “savior complex.” He is nicknamed the “Legend” by his fellow soldiers, which he accepts rather coldly than with pride. As he becomes one of the most sought-after targets by the Iraqi insurgency, he begins to feel the immense pressure by his duty to protect his fellow soldiers. They all seem to suffer the day-to-day terrors of war more than Kyle, whose calm, dutiful demeanor is strangely refreshing to witness overseas.
But, as his wife Taya often catches him over the phone during unfortunate moments in the middle of traumatic life-or-death sequences at war, she listens on with absolute horror. Miller provides a beautiful performance as we feel Taya’s strong and emotionally resonant desire to have Kyle back home. His return home is troubling as we see his mental deterioration worsen; he grows painfully distant; he is reluctant to talk about his experiences and constantly relives episodes of war in his head–which only get more serious over time. “I need you to be human again,” she tells him helplessly.
Rather than portraying Kyle as your all-American soldier who preaches about his devotion to one’s country, Eastwood invests us in the trauma of war, making us audibly feel and hear the agonizing pain of a gunshot or emotional wounds caused by adjusting oneself back into American society. Cooper, whose down-to-earth charm and spirited demeanor bring life to the real-life Chris Kyle, touchingly allows us to understand the horrific episodes of war that repeat in one’s head. He cannot seem to get a good grasp of life, which “American Sniper” succeeds in to create a great biopic.
“American Sniper” is a gripping biopic that provides a heart-rending and honest salute to those who have served in our country.
This article was featured in The New University.