American Sniper

Whether Clint Eastwood has been in front of the camera as an actor, or behind the cameras yelling action or cut as a director, or in some cases, when he’s been both, we can easily claim, that in most cases, in an Eastwood film, there’s been a man with a gun in his hand. Clint’s latest, American Sniper, not only fits into that mold, but also has a self-explanatory title.

I’ve seen some films in the genre like Sniper with Tom Berenger and Billy Zane, Day of the Jackal with Edward Fox, Shooter with Mark Wahlberg, and Jarhead with Jake Gyllenhaal. I think that American Sniper is better than any one of those. But to be honest, I liked Jude Law in Enemy at the Gates, more than American Sniper.

Clint has done excellent work here, as has Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, and Sienna Miller as his wife Taya Renae Kyle. This film is basically a character study rather than a strict action movie.

Eastwood, working from a script by Jason Hall, with the source material being Chris Kyle’s book, has taken great pains to show us that not only is war hell, and within any war, tough decisions must be made.

At a heavy cost either on a battle field on foreign soil, or within the daily struggle within ourselves.

Now Kyle enlisted in the Navy Seals when he was thirty. He did 4 tours in country, which is about 1000 days. His marksmanship was excellent and besides that, he believed in his mission and his orders which were to protect his men at all cost. Eastwood gave us plenty of oorahs during Kyle’s basic training, but I did not get a sense of jingoistic thinking. We didn’t see much of the political sides to war – yet, as we all know, politics and warfare are often joined at the hip, or they’re usual bedfellows.

But over time, we did see that Kyle was affected by the rigors of his job. He often found that children or women were in his gun sights and that was troubling. When he came home, he was often out of sorts with what might be called PTSD. Only it wasn’t identified as such in the film.

To make the picture a bit clearer here is a quote from Taya, Chris Kyle’s wife –

If you think that this war isn’t changing you you’re wrong. You can only circle the flames so long.

Or this one also spoken by Taya:

You’re my husband, you’re the father of my children. Even when you’re here, you’re not here. I see you, I feel you, but you’re not here.

Or this one – also spoken by Taya:

I need you… to be human again. I need you here.

Of course it was true. After all, he did four tours.

Eventually, Chris Kyle began to see the cracks in his own psyche. In the midst of a fire fight in Sadr City – he calls Taya via Sat phone:

Taya Renae Kyle: Hello?
Chris Kyle: Baby?
Taya Renae Kyle: Baby I can’t hear you!
Chris Kyle: I’m ready. I’m ready to come home. I’m ready to come home baby!

So Eastwood presents his question to we viewers in this film. He’s asking us to consider if the price of being a hero is too costly. Kyle was a Navy Seal. He was loved by his men, and held the record for the most kills by any individual across all services in US Military History. With the long rifle, the M-82, he was a master in those impossible situations, but his long rides home lacked only the fear as the stress and tension remained.

There is another angle I’d like to mention. Chris Kyle was a much bigger man physically than Bradley Cooper who portrayed him in the film. Cooper bulked up considerably – likely adding sixty to seventy pounds to make him look the part. There’s also the fact that Cooper wore a beard throughout most of the film. And sun glasses. I knew I was watching Bradley Cooper, and yet – there were times when he was so deeply immersed in the part – that intellectually, while I knew this was Cooper, my eyes kept saying – look how different he looks.

Now this is NOT a criticism. Rather think of it as unavoidable distraction. For me.

Sienna Miller played Taya and she was great. There were times when my mind kept wanting to tell her to back off – to give him time. But the reality, we were asked to face an army wife’s loneliness and fears.

Taya Kyle did not have the best of times, as she had to live with the constant dread of having two officers appear at her door, at any time, with bad news.

Finally, my overall opinion of this well-made and moving story – is that it both stunned and shocked the audience. I saw the film today, Friday, January 16th at a 10:00 AM showing. The theater was about 85% filled, and that is a high number for a Friday morning show.

As the film ended, some information was shown on screen and then the credits rolled. There was no applause, no happy chattering. Rather it was eerily quiet; people were not standing to make for the exits as quickly as they could.

It was like everyone was stunned into silence. The film has serious impact, and while Eastwood doesn’t hammer home anything – he had delivered a strong movie and a strong movie that surely affected all of us who watched it.. Just remember that even though I liked Enemy at The Gates better – that may have a lot to do with Bradley Cooper, who not only portrayed Chris Kyle, a man who put his life on the line every day in the service of his country, and it is a lot to take in. I mean in the sense of the actor disappearing into the role. He was a killer, and a husband, and a father. It had to have been tough.

Jude Law had the backing of history as he played a sniper in a different war – one that happened long ago. Where as Kyle played a contemporary.

I’ll recommend the film and rate it four point zero. I can’t see an Oscar on the horizon for Cooper for this role, despite his strong performance. Nor do I see an Oscar for Clint – the film’s last major set piece was a military operation in the midst of a sandstorm, which I believe clearly drained away much of the impact. At least for me.

As Kyle said earlier in the film, when asked if he had some sort of savior complex – No. I just want to get the bad guys, but if I can’t see them I can’t shoot them.

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14 thoughts on “American Sniper

  1. I think you put your finger on the main flaw of the film. It short-changes the audience by avoiding scenes about Kyle’s rehab process. We know all about why he suffered, and we are told he changed, but we have to accept that on faith, when the sources of his troubles have been SHOWN to us. That seriously undercuts the impact and tragedy of how he died.

    Will Cooper win? He’s been nominated three times in a row. That helps. But Chris Kyle is a controversial subject. Many consider him a self-promoter. That hurts Cooper’s chances.

    Eastwood is in a win-win situation. He has won before, for much better films. This nomination is sufficient to maintain confidence in his ability after not directing since 2009.

  2. I also liked Enemy at the Gates better, although Sniper tried harder to win sympathy. Unfortunately, despite all the effort Eastwood put in to make Kyle a three-dimensional character, he was simply too lock and load to interest me. And although I thought the war action was extremely realistic, the movie always felt like an arcade game more than a dramatic character study. The stakes were high, but the protagonist never faced a worthy opponent, other than his wife. If surviving war is hard, keeping your marriage alive is ten times harder – as Eastwood knows all too well.

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

  3. This movie felt like a video game. A guy in mid-east headdress pops onto the screen. BANG. Another guy pops up. BANG. There’s zero story. Eastwood, Cooper, and Miller all did fine work, but the script was just not able to make me care about the characters.. I believe there is an oscar caliber story to be told about Kyle, but the screenwriter never loaded any heavy ammunition. Given a better screenplay, Clint would probably be taking home another Best Picture trophy.

    • There’s been some blowback on the Eastwood film – after a great box office weekend – people are saying, make that – some people are saying, that Eastwood has ‘glorified’ or ‘heroized’ a killer. You have even called the film something approaching a video game.

      Elsewhere folks are asking why Selma, the film, has received so llittle, at least from the Oscar Academy, in the way of praise;- just two noms: Best Picture and Best Song.

      They argue that history has been bent, that LBJ has been portrayed inaccurately, and that his legacy has been tarnished.

      The film Citizen Four (basically an interview with Snowden) is another flashpoint. Some call his acts heroic, and others call him a traitor.

      I guess thats the whole point of why films can be called a cultural tent peg – or a flag pole,
      with people forming opinions about the films, and then going public. with them.

      • I think the accusations of Eastwood “heroizing” Chris Kyle are valid, but I think that validity results more from Eastwood simplifying Chris Kyle and holding back on his story, therefore making it easier for us to view him as a hero. It would’ve been interesting to see the movie tackle Kyle in a way more accurate to how he was in real life, someone who actually embodied a “glorified” figure with a disturbing personality (that came through in his book).

  4. Caught this one a little earlier than expected. Was pretty disappointed, as I don’t feel like it handled Kyle’s story or character well at all. The ending as a result lost much of its impact, I’m afraid, given the PTSD was resolved in a flash and zoomed over a huge part of the guy’s life. An opportunity for complexity missed out on at every turn in favor of more battle scenes, and supporting characters who weren’t given any time to develop.

    Cooper was great, though, that’s for sure. And interestingly enough, I found the sandstorm battle to be one of the more striking images of the episode.

    • Wel,l we agree that the the PTSD was not given enough depth which would have fleshed out visually what we knew about him when he was home. The key entry point was when Taya told him – even when you’re here, you’re not here.

      But that was a reaction to Chris Kyle rather than something from him.

      Then we he did come home from his fourth tour, he didn’t even tell Taya that he was back in country. When she questioned him, all he said was, I guess I needed some time.

      So absolutely that was something that should have led to more but didn’t. As you said – disappointing.

      As for the sandstorm – wasn’t there a massive sand storm in the last Tom Cruise Mission Impossible film? I didn’t like that one either.

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