Ignoring the memoir on which American Sniper was based, and ignoring the controversy surrounding Chris Kyle as a person, American Sniper is a decent war movie, but not much more than that. It follows the central character’s journey from his early life in Texas to becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL and finally to his multiple tours in Iraq where he earns the title “most lethal sniper in U.S. military history” with 160 confirmed kills. The action scenes are good and exciting but the rest feels a bit empty and, for lack of a better word, passionless.
Chris Kyle is portrayed as an unwavering American patriot who firmly believes in the war and never questions its objective to protect American citizens from the threat of the Taliban. Unfortunately for his wife and children, Chris becomes so attached to the war that he finds it hard to come home and even harder to stay home. American Sniper follows the man and his story, but unfortunately all the pieces to the story seem to be fragmentary and disconnected from each other. It’s bound to happen when a Director attempts to cover a man’s entire career in 132 minutes, even when that Director is the great Clint Eastwood. It is obvious that some liberties were taken with respect to the memoir in order to weave a better story and to meet the standards of a Hollywood biopic, but it still seems to lack the coherence necessary to make it truly resonate with the audience. That being said, the war scenes were all done very well and provide for some very tense and very raw moments that’ll surely have movie-goers holding their breath, but Clint Eastwood could have done more to explore the human element of a story like this.
Fortunately for Chris Kyle’s memory, the movie seems to distance itself from his more unlikeable traits and actions described in his book and also covered in the media. However, touching on at least some of Chris Kyle’s weaknesses and psyche would have made the movie a little less hollow. Instead, all you see is a soldier who identifies better with his comrades and his war persona (“The Legend”), than he does with his own family back home, but without much of an explanation other than pure patriotism. This is a notion that many soldiers from any country can identify with – the struggle to come home and live each day as if your fellow soldiers aren’t fighting for their lives or for the lives of others. Bradley Cooper is solid in his performance and certainly went through an intense ordeal to bulk up significantly for the role. There are a few key scenes that show his true range as emotions finally erupt from his character, but unfortunately this isn’t the role that will define his career from this point on. Sienna Miller, who plays Chris Kyle’s wife Taya, also puts in a good performance and channels Taya’s frustration and struggle to understand who her husband has become.
One thing in particular that stands out about American Sniper is the ending. It was executed with perfection and will leave those who don’t know what happens a bit stunned and those who do know will be satisfied. The end credits are also quite touching, to the point where it feels almost disrespectful to leave before they wrap up.
As a sniper, Chris Kyle’s skill and accomplishments cannot be disputed, but as an American hero who emulates everything we want our children to be, that is up for debate. A heated debate, it would seem.