Movie Review – American Sniper (2015)

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Director: Clint Eastwood

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kier O’Donnell, Jake McDorman, Sammy Sheik, Mido Hamada

Chris Kyle (Cooper) was a Texan man who wanted to be a cowboy, but recognising that it is a forlorn dream he signs up to serve his country.  When the Twin Towers get attacked he vows to do his duty for the virtue of protecting one’s own was instilled from him from an early age so he immediately enlisted and did four tours of Iraq, cultivating a reputation as a deadly sniper. Yet for all the insurgents he kills American soldiers keep falling. A rivalry forms between him and an enemy sniper known as Mustafa, who can shoot from seemingly impossible ranges. Finding it harder to deal with family life than the warzone, Kyle repeatedly puts himself in danger to protect his country, and his brothers.

American Sniper begins with Kyle having to make the decision whether to shoot a child who is holding a large grenade. Quickly, the camera cuts back to his childhood where his father instils in him the attitude that will serve him later in life. After a detour through a bad relationship and an attempt to become a cowboy, he meets Taya (Miller), who is initially reluctant to being anything with a Navy Seal. Despite her misgivings they fall for one another, and she becomes pregnant just before he goes to Iraq.

The film jumps between the warzone and life back in America as Kyle went through four tours, and it shows how uncomfortable he was with being at home. At first it seems to be because he’s suffering some sort of post-traumatic stress, but later on he admits that it’s because he feels guilty for all the people he couldn’t save. Cooper showed some subtle differences as Kyle drifted between the two environments, although I felt the tension between he and Taya became repetitive until later on in the film when there was some resolution.

The warzone scenes were effective and brutal, but because the film packed in four tours only a few soldiers were given names. A lot of them melted together into one camouflaged mass. As a comic geek I appreciated the squad adorning themselves with The Punisher’s trademark skull. A lot of the scenes were hard to watch, and Eastwood eked out every drop of tension. A blistering soundtrack complemented these moments perfectly and completely drew me in to the action and emotion of the scene. That is with one exception, there’s a scene where Kyle is tending to his baby and it’s clearly a doll. I don’t know why it jumped out at me, but it just struck me as incongruous.

I appreciated the struggles that Kyle and other veterans suffered when coming back from war, and I’m sure this film will strike a chord with anyone who has served in the military. I can’t speak for the accuracy of the squad’s maneuvers but it seemed realistic to me. As well as being one of my favourite actors, Clint Eastwood is one of my favourite directors too. The stand out scene for me was the sandstorm at the end. Disorienting, confusing, tense, it was something amazing to watch.

Reading on IMDB, it seems that the rivalry with Mustafa was included in the film to give it a clearer narrative, which may irk some people because this is based on a true story, but there’s true and then there’s Hollywood’s version of truth. It did help centre the overall conflict, and the final shot taken was incredible.

I have to mention the ending though. I think it will divide audiences for a number of reasons. I didn’t know how to feel at first. Part of it may depend on your view of the war itself, which I’m not going to get into here because I’m reviewing movies not political policies. From the standpoint of the movie itself it seems that certain events had to be included whilst filming, and I guess given how recent it occurred some sensitivity had to be given, but and honestly I’m okay with it. Having had time to reflect I think it fits the film well and I’m not sure anything would have been gained by a strict depiction of those events (I’m trying hard not to give any spoilers away!).

I highly recommend American Sniper. I think it does lend itself to discussions about attitudes towards the war in Iraq and the military presence over there, but really it’s about one man’s attempts to do his duty to the best of his ability. I found myself engrossed and, having not been aware of this story before, I’m glad that the film was made to bring it to my attention.

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