American Sniper; Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Ben Reed, Elise Robertson
Clint Eastwood is no stranger to war movies. His style of moviemaking though is something that all of us who’ve followed his efforts over time have come to be familiar with. With American Sniper, Eastwood departs a little from his usual style to present us with what looks like a normal cut and dried combat movie transitioning into a lot more within the span of its 133 minutes. The difficulty of a directing a war movie wherein the brutality of the story needs to be captured while placing the viewer in a position where the action is detailed and immersive but not overwhelming is converted into a skill by very few directors, Eastwood being one. Late in the movie a man describes the main character in the movie, Chris Kyle, to the latters’ son as a hero. The definition of heroism or the ambiguity of it forms the constant undercurrent that we are drawn to in ‘American Sniper’.
‘American Sniper’ revolves around the life of American Navy SEAL operative Chris Kyle portrayed on screen by Bradley Cooper. The flash backs to Kyles younger days show us a Texan cowboy inspired by a childhood principle that’s burnt into him to ‘protect his own’ leading him to joining his country’s defense forces specifically the SEAL’s. Deployed to Iraq and bearing the honor and pressure of being the sniper ‘Legend’, as the troops in Iraq end up calling him because of his very special and eerily accurate sniping talent, the earnestness of Chris Kyle is brought out in what looks like a simple but would have been a tough job for Bradley Cooper given his usual self-assuredness. The very first shot shows us that it’s not the few ounces of pressure on the trigger of a long gun but the decision behind pulling the trigger that is the cause of trauma in the wars that are being waged.
Justifying his nomination for the best actor Academy, Bradley Cooper transforms himself into Chris Kyle by bulking up physically and aids Eastwood in providing the most direct perspective of Chris Kyles war – Kyles own point of view. Eastwood does not bother with justifications, ramifications or reasoning and instead puts us alongside Kyle. What starts off seeming like another clichéd approach to a war that was questioned more than any other in recent times, ‘American Sniper’ moves into more personal territory as we accompany Chris on his tours and his adjournments back home. Kyle who responds to a trainer’s question about a target with the reply that he is at his best when his target is breathing justifies to himself the taking of lives with the answer that each one he takes saves numerous others. The question never leaves him and Bradley Cooper’s brooding performance serves up his situation to us without any diluting. Eastwood and Cooper present us the side of the war that insists that violence is not being doled out because it is a quick means to an end but because it is necessary. Posing a dilemma on screen is not something that is simple but we are often posed with them during the course of the movie and therein lies the difference in Eastwood’s directing style. Interspersed with the gory results of Kyles impeccable aim are flag wrapped coffins being sent back home and there is no one answer to the question of morality in the time of war.
The rest of the cast composed of Sienna Miller and a diverse and varied set of people playing characters comprising Chris Kyle’s comrades at war, trainers at the Navy SEAL facility, veterans and of course the Iraqis, hold their own against Bradley Coopers defining performance. The editing is kept taut and to the point without unnecessarily burdening us with details while at the same time keeping information within its scope as deemed by scribe Jason Hall who has adapted it from the eponymous book. The production design intrigued me with Humvees and actual sniping guns including the TAC 388A being used lending the movie the authentic point-of-view feel that it demands.
As reports would have it, Chris Kyle’s father seems to have met Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper (who co-produced) and after assuring them of his respect for them also assured them that he would unleash hell on them if his son’s story was not given the respect due to it. The subject matter being the cause of various international debates neither Eastwood not Cooper will be the subject of Mr.Kyle Sr’s threat given that they have managed to bring us a view from the other side of the looking glass. By the time we finish witnessing Kyle’s fourth tour we are of the state of mind where we tend to agree with his decision not to rush home but to first have a drink while waiting in a bar stateside. The scary nature of war where pressing the trigger has definitive results in terms of life and death, the reasoning behind the press of the trigger leading to more compunction than triumph is reason enough to respect the soldiers of war when their sole aim is to obey their orders and protect their brothers. What needs to be questioned is the necessity of war and violence which we will as part of my review of ‘The Imitation Game’. Kyle’s story could have had a very Hollywood ending what with the effect of the war still apparent in him if not for his real life end. A different flavor of Clint Eastwood where he leaves the story behind the man to tell the tale.
Three and a half stars.