American Sniper was bound to attract interest and controversy simultaneously. With six Academy Award nominations, Clint Eastwood’s biographical war film has received as much praise as it has criticism.
Based on the memoir by the late Chris Kyle, American Sniper examines the effects combat has on the human body and mind, as well as what veterans struggle with in everyday life.
Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, is a good-natured Texan who works as a bronco rider on the rodeo circuit and likes to go hunting. He meets a girl named Taya (Sienna Miller) whom he becomes fond of. In 1998, after watching news of the U.S Embassy bombings, Kyle is inspired to enlist in the Navy and passes training to become a SEAL. Following the 9/11 attacks, he marries Taya and is shipped out to Iraq.
As a member of the SEALs, Kyle channels his hunting experience into being a sniper during combat missions. His first recorded kills happen when he is forced to take down a woman and child who are threatening a U.S military convoy. Despite being troubled over his actions, Kyle gains a following among his fellow soldiers, who bestow the nickname “Legend” on him. However, he is haunted by feared al-Qaeda leader al-Zarqawi, who disappears before he can be captured.
After completing his first tour of duty, Kyle returns home to his wife and family, but he cannot fully adjust to a normal life as a civilian. Restless and uneasy, he returns to the Middle East for a second, third, and fourth term of service. These absences begin to create a growing distance between him and Taya, who warns him she might not be there when he returns.
Bradley Cooper’s performance as Chris Kyle is gripping. Known for playing likeable, charismatic characters, Cooper hides his boyish looks—having bulked up considerably and grown a scraggly beard to better represent the late Kyle.
Even though he remains silent for many scenes, Cooper uses his eyes and subtle body language to portray a troubled man who cannot remove his mind from the warzone.
Sienna Miller brings a sincere, nurturing quality to the role of Taya. While she is not featured as much as Cooper, the character is troubled by her husband’s loyalty to the SEALs and his inability to fit in. Her best moment in the film occurs when she delivers an ultimatum to Kyle about his choice return to service or stay home.
American Sniper has been criticized for its alleged pro-war stance, a supposed glorification of war, and the argument that 9/11 is connected to the conflict in Iraq. While Eastwood does not shy away from the grim aspects of military life, there are a few moments that are painful to watch.
One of the more unsettling elements in the film involves an al-Qaeda leader using a power drill as torture to extract information from civilians. Another harrowing sequence involves Kyle clutching his rifle and silently praying for a young Iraqi boy not to pick up a fallen soldier’s rocket launcher.
The editing style of the film changes from the beautifully-lit scenes of Chris’ home life in the Lone Star State to fast-paced, rapid-fire jump cuts in the Middle East. Clint Eastwood’s direction places the focus on the soldiers’ expressions and movements, while keeping the production values and special effects in the background.
American Sniper is one of the year’s best films, Cooper’s performance a tour-de-force. Regardless of the filmmakers’ stance, it is bound to court controversy wherever it is released.