American Sniper Review: An Amazing Performance Of A Real American Hero

It would have been so easy for Clint Eastwood to latch onto American jingoism with his new movie, American Sniper. He could have very easily just shot Bradley Cooper draped in the stars and stripes, set amidst action pieces taken from a GI JOE cartoon. Instead, Eastwood — and especially Bradley Cooper — have turned in a fine film that does away with the silly traps that most war films fall into and instead focuses on one aspect of the greater cause — one man, Chris Kyle — who is known as the most prolific sniper in American history.

The tropes are there, sure. Chris Kyle (Cooper) is a rodeo-riding, good ol’ boy from Texas who chases skirts, enjoys his beers, and loves and protects his baby brother (Keir O’Donnell) — as directed to by his father (Ben Reed) when the boys were younger. When Americans are killed during a terrorist attack on a foreign consulate, Kyle joins the Navy SEALs to fight for his country. To protect Americans from those forces out to hurt them. He meets his girl, Taya (Sienna Miller), they get married, and try to live the military family life.

Then September 11, 2001, happens, and the world changes forever. Kyle goes to Iraq and his story truly begins.

There are instances of chest-thumping American bravado, but they are few and far between, as Clint Eastwood keeps the focus on Kyle and his journey. American Sniper is deftly paced and never feels boring or too kinetic. This may be Eastwood’s best cinematic narrative to date. But no matter how good the film is written or directed, one thing separates American Sniper from the war films that have come before it: Bradley Cooper’s performance.

American Sniper review

Bradley Cooper completely disappears as Chris Kyle in American Sniper.

I cannot write enough about Cooper’s turn as Chris Kyle. The actor completely loses himself in the role, gaining 40 pounds, growing a beard, and adopting a Texas drawl that rarely dips into cartoony. After about 20 minutes, I stopped seeing Bradley Cooper and only saw the character of Chris Kyle. It is a performance that truly shows how talented of an actor that Cooper really is. He was nominated last year for his role in American Hustle, but honestly, the only thing memorable about that role was his permed hair. In American Sniper, we are treated to an American actor at the very top of his game. And this is the same guy that voiced a gun-toting Raccoon in last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Talk about range.

Sienna Miller cannot hope to keep up with the force that is Bradley Cooper, and she really isn’t given much to do other than cry and whine. Her character starts the film strong, but for the majority of American Sniper, Eastwood shows her with tears in her eyes. I completely understand that she represents what spouses of soldiers go through, I just feel that her talents are wasted in a script that calls for her to constantly cry.

American Sniper review

Sienna Miller is wasted here, as her turn as Taya devolves into the “whiny wife.”

I knew of Chris Kyle’s exploits going into American Sniper, but for some reason, I was not aware of the ending. And for that I am glad, as the gut punch I felt is the reason we go to the movies. American Sniper as a whole is the reason we go to the movies. It has its light moments, it has its heartfelt moments, but it also has its tense moments, as any war film should. I’ve heard from real-life soldiers who have commended the film for its sound editing and its realism on the streets of Iraq during the war. The gamut of emotions that the audience goes through runs the entire spectrum, and that is all Eastwood and Cooper and a script by Jason Hall, based off Chris Kyle’s book that doesn’t treat the audience like pledge-reciting children.

American Sniper review

Kyle (Cooper) chooses serving his country over being a father to his children, and his decision haunts him.

Chris Kyle has become a figure of debate, as his book is full of exploits that may or may not have happened. He’s been pegged as a bigot in some circles, and others have questioned his kills counts and his actions as a member of the U.S. Navy SEALs. But none of that matters here. That’s not the focus, nor is the war and our reasons for being in the deserts of Iraq. All of it serves to create a backdrop in tapestry for Bradley Cooper to turn in the performance of his life, directed by a man who knows a thing or two about the human condition.

Any American who pulls on a uniform to serve his country deserves gratitude, and our respect. Not all are heroes, as heroes — by definition — are those who go above and beyond, who give more than they are asked to give. And who, by their actions, help others more than helping themselves. By that definition, Chris Kyle was a hero. American Sniper is his story. The rest is just noise, and as any good sniper will tell you, you have to ignore the noise to truly see the target.

American Sniper is rated R and is in theaters now.

American Sniper Review featured
out of 5

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