Based on a true story, American Sniper presents us with Chris Kyle, American patriot from Texas and crack shot with a rifle who went on to become the deadliest sniper in American military history with 160 confirmed kills (from 255 claimed kills – a claimed kill being when the target is hit but the kill cannot be confirmed).
Dubbed ‘The Legend’ by his company, he was a well-loved and well-respected SEAL that embarked on four tours to Iraq over a period of ten years in the pursuit of two deadly insurgents. Having saved countless lives, Kyle is remembered as a war hero.
Kyle became so famous for his sniper skills and was such a threat to the enemy that Iraqi insurgents dubbed him the “Devil of Ramadi” and offered a bounty for his head in excess of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. He was shot twice, and survived six IED (Improvised Explosive Device) attacks.
Directed by the incomparable Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as Kyle, the film runs for 135 minutes but it doesn’t feel long. The tension that Eastwood creates during the Iraqi desert scenes is so tight that you will find yourself on the edge of your seat, holding your breath.
The film commences with Kyle as a child, being taught to hunt by his father. It is immediately evident that his father is a hard man who is tough on both his children, with little tolerance for softness or cowardice. There is one particular scene in the beginning of the film where the family are sitting around the dinner table that is overblown and will leave you laughing for the wrong reasons but don’t be put off by this. The film just goes from strength to strength from this point forward.
We then jump from dinner table to rodeo where Kyle has grown up and gone on to become a rodeo cowboy and champion. But he wrestles with the feeling that he should be doing more with his life.
Upon hearing the news of 9/11 and with a strong, patriotic duty to defend his country (drilled into him by his father), Kyle enlists in the army and undergoes gruelling training to become a Navy SEAL (Sea, Air, Land). Due to his efforts in Iraq, Kyle was awarded some of the highest military medals for his bravery and skill including the Bronze and Silver Star.
Bradley Cooper absolutely nails this role. He really illuminates Kyle and his emotional struggle with what he is in Iraq to do. While Kyle is brave, patriotic and unwavering in his duty, he is also incredibly human. And throughout the course of the film, we see how the war in Iraq changes him. This is also very well-reflected in his wife (Sienna Miller) who feels the Chris she knows and loves steadily slipping from her grasp.
Whether you think the war in Iraq is right or wrong or somewhere in between, this film does well to present all perspectives while keeping us emotionally involved with its central characters. Eastwood very skilfully points to these different perspectives and ideas but instead of beating us over the head with war propaganda he lets the strength and frailty of his characters force us to question our own ethics and beliefs just as they do.
American Sniper is a tense, violent, raw, gut-wrenching but also very funny-at-times film that is an absolute triumph for all involved.
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