To discuss American Sniper, the new Clint Eastwood film, it is nearly impossible to not also discuss the man who inspired the film: Chris Kyle, portrayed by Bradley Cooper, who is cited as the most lethal sniper in American history. The movie’s portrayal of the man as an unapologetic hero who deserves nothing but praise has been controversial, to say the least. Is Chris Kyle really worthy of the saint-like portrait that Eastwood paints in his movie?
Putting the various opinions of the film’s stance aside, it is an impeccably made movie. It is beautifully shot, effortlessly conveying the gritty reality of the war in Iraq. It is impossible to not feel a part of the action onscreen; one can practically taste the desert sand that invades almost every scene. In addition, the editing and, most notably, the sound design are masterful and very deserving of the Academy Award nominations they have received.
The less technical elements are also worthy of praise. Bradley Cooper delivers a wonderfully raw performance, expertly depicting a soldier who has been raised as the ideal, unflinching version of a man, but finds that steadfastness shaken by the realities of war. Sienna Miller also turns in an emotionally powerful performance as Kyle’s wife Taya, who is left without her husband during his multiple tours overseas. Additionally, the action sequences are filmed and directed thrillingly, showing the horrors of war in a brutal manner that refuses to hold anything back. There are also several tense sniper sequences that are reminiscent of a stand-off in an old-fashioned Western film, much like the ones that Eastwood starred in during his early career as an actor.
In that sense, it is easy to find enjoyment in American Sniper, but it is also difficult to not consider the real-life Chris Kyle, and whether or not the film is an accurate portrayal of him. As has been well-publicized, in his own autobiography Kyle showed a near-blind hatred for the entire population of Iraq and had no qualms with killing. In the movie, he is depicted as not only emotionally ravaged by his actions, but also unable to return to a normal life at home. No doubt, this was done in order to make the audience have nothing but reverence for Kyle and, in effect, for the war as a whole. It can be said that criticizing a movie for what it could be, rather than what it is, is unfair. But when the filmmakers specifically cherry-pick the parts of a biographical story that they wish to include and alter real-life people to create a more flattering picture, it can be viewed as selective at best, deceptive at worst. Another troubling aspect of the movie is the characterization of Kyle’s wife. Throughout the majority of her screen time, she is depicted as pregnant, sobbing, nagging, or all three. In 2015, to see a female character constructed so one-dimensionally is disheartening, to say the least.
Despite these critiques, it is hard to not recommend the film, which is undoubtedly thrilling and entertaining. It is probably best to think of the film as simply a war film, rather than a faithful telling of a real-life soldier’s story. If you can do that, you will almost certainly enjoy American Sniper.
American Sniper is currently showing at the Sparta Theater.