American Sniper (2014)
***This is a true story, so spoilers are already out there***
I am late to this film, obviously. I bought a used copy from Amazon for just £1, and watched it yesterday. Clint Eastwood directed this true life story of Chris Kyle, the most effective sniper in US military history. Kyle is played by Bradley Cooper, and his wife by Sienna Miller. This is a long film, so also a longer than usual review.
The film begins in the Iraq war, and immediately flashes back to the boyhood upbringing of Kyle. We see a stern yet caring father, determined to bring up his sons the right way; reflecting his values, and learning to hunt. The young Chris shows a natural talent with a rifle, but he really wants to be a rodeo star. Fast forward to Chris in his late twenties, (Cooper) touring the rodeo circuits with his younger brother, and enjoying moderate success. Then the US embassy bombings occur in 1998, and the fiercely patriotic Kyle enlists in the military, training to become a Navy Seal. Despite being one of the oldest recruits, his determination gets him through, and his skill with a rifle gets him trained to become one of the elite snipers, providing cover for troops operating in the streets below his high vantage point.
He also meets an attractive young woman in a bar (Miller) and falls for her, beginning a serious relationship which soon leads to marriage. During his wedding, the unit receive their orders to travel to the war in Iraq, and the film transfers the action there.
For me as a viewer, it is in these foreign locations where the film excels. Always convincing, with a constant feeling of threat, danger, and menace. The tension rarely lets up, even during the quiet moments, and everything from the dusty streets, to the still rooftop lairs of Kyle, are always believable in the extreme. Much of the action is seen through the magnification of his telescopic sight. We see what he sees, in real time, with decisions having to be made in a heartbeat. To fire, or not to fire? The pressure of protecting his comrades on the ground patrols, and the complications of perhaps making a ‘bad kill’, and facing the repercussions of that act. Cooper acts this stillness surprisingly well, and small facial movements show us his thought process, as he makes life and death calls every day.
Returning home to his wife and new baby son, he is a changed man. She senses the difference in him, and the distance he feels from his life back in America. He is restless, worrying about his comrades, keen to return to combat. Their relationship suffers, but endures.
Back on his second tour of duty in Iraq, he is faced with an enemy sniper, a skillful Syrian insurgent. This man is killing US soldiers at an alarming rate, and Kyle makes it his mission to try to find and stop this man. But this is not the same story as we saw in ‘Enemy At The Gates’, though the theme is similar. By now, the enemy is also aware of this effective American sniper, who has killed so many of their fighters. They put up a huge financial reward for anyone who can kill him, so now Kyle has to operate with a price on his head too.
Home on leave once again, things are not getting any better. he has a baby daughter, and a growing son. A wife who is unhappy managing alone for months on end, with children who hardly know their father. She wants Chris to come home, to stop serving in Iraq. She becomes convinced that he has a death wish, and that he won’t stop until he gets himself killed over there. But he won’t leave his comrades unprotected, and remains convinced that they have to stop the militants in Iraq, so that the war doesn’t come to the US in the long run.
So, two more tours of duty, and an eventual return home for good are covered. When overseas, Chris still hunts for the elusive enemy sniper, often getting tantalisingly close, only for the man to escape at the last moment. The cost to his own well-being is dealt with, as he constantly drifts back and forth between caring for his family, and worrying about those left behind. There is some debate about his unquestioning patriotism, and the futility of the ongoing war that sees his younger brother drawn into the conflict, as well as the loss of so many of his good friends.
The ending is done with dignity, and lack of show. It is almost the perfect ending.
So, is it good? It is very good indeed, as far as I am concerned. The action sequences are often brilliantly handled, and make for nail-biting viewing at times. But the best moments are those when we look along the rifle, through the sight with the same view as Chris. Those moments when you have to make that call; take the shot, or not. It leaves us wondering what we would do, and transports us into the heart and mind of the shooter. Taking us to a world we can only imagine, if we have never been in the military.
Eastwood got this one just right. Here’s a trailer.