(Scored out of ten; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = OK, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 = next to perfect)
Dubbed “the most lethal sniper in American military history” for his efforts in the Iraq War, Chris Kyle must face down his worst fears while trying to keep hold of who he is outside of the war. American Sniper is an amazing character study brought to brutal life through Bradley Cooper’s great performance. He does a stellar job portraying Chris Kyle fighting his emotions as he battles PTSD and sees his comrades and world, literally and figuratively, blow up around him. Cooper’s approach to the character leaves his true thoughts ambiguous but does so in a way that brings forth the perplexity of leading dual lives. His love for his country and his love for his family are constantly at odds throughout the film painting a painful picture of the life of a veteran.
As a child he was told to always look out for others and to use violence as a force for good. His enrollment as a SEAL was his way of focusing any anger he may have felt in a positive direction. Once he returned to the real world his father’s words about being a “sheep or a wolf” immediately came back adding further confusion to his already crumbling sense of identity.
The difficulty he had when faced with shooting down the mother and child in the opening scene was extremely powerful and continued to recur throughout. The impact of that initial decision stuck with him during all four of his tours and Bradley did a fantastic job showing how much regret followed that choice. When faced with that same crossroads later on in the film he almost breaks down and you can see him flipping between fighting for his country and sacrificing yet another piece of his humanity to the war or to let the child live. It’s a pivotal moment in the film and was executed to perfection.
That’s enough gushing over the lead, let’s move on to the other characters. Sienna Miller as Taya, wife of Kyle, does a splendid job. From their initial drunken meet up to her breakdown in front of the hospital (a standout sequence in a film filled with spectacular sequences), Miller never falters in her mission to imbue Taya with as much emotion as possible. Taya does tend to fall into stereotypical territory a little bit (worried wife and mother desperately trying to re-establish their lost love) but she is far from the focus of the piece. The supporting characters in the film are pretty interchangeable and really only serve as cheerleaders for “The Legend”. It is sad to see some of them go but the true heart of the piece comes from how with every death the character of Kyle becomes more and more reserved.
Now for a few things I didn’t like, the brother subplot is completely forgotten. It seemed as if he would play a larger role in forming the identity of Chris Kyle but he only shows up once for a few moments after his introduction. The ending also left something to be desired. I can understand wanting to tell the story of his life as completely as possible but ending it the way it did left me feeling like something was missing. There wasn’t a final moment of clarity. After all of his battles, all of his struggles, what did he learn from it all?
Additionally, there were points in the film that felt a little gamey, especially when it came to the rivalry between Chris and Mustafa (an enemy sniper with skills rivaling his own). The scenes involving the two seemed a little forced, like Clint Eastwood needed to create a “big bad” as opposed to rooting the conflict in the war itself or his already interesting inner doubts.
Also there was a blatantly obvious prop baby that kind of took me out of the film, but only for a second.
Invoking modern wartime classics like The Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty, American Sniper proves itself as one of the best in the genre. This isn’t a piece of American propaganda, which it easily could have been, but instead focuses on the journey of a man and how much trauma can impact an individual as well as everyone around them. I highly recommend it to all film fans.
Overall I give the film 9/10