By now you’ve heard about American Sniper— it tells the true story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper, more on him later), the deadliest sniper in American history. We see his four tours of duty, and life at home on the range (sometimes literally) in between. It’s an important film, no doubt, but do you walk away in awe? I wouldn’t say so. The film starts off with Kyle in his element, perched on a rooftop on watch. It’s as if director Clint Eastwood is saying, “Yeah, violence against women and children may occur, you’re welcome to leave now, people!” But then we immediately shift to Kyle’s childhood. He hunts with his dad, punches a kid who’s punching his little brother Jeff, and steals a Bible at church. We learn a lot in a few minutes.
Next thing you know, Chris is a sleazy thirty-year-old cowboy on the road with Jeff (Keir O’Donnell). There’s a scene in which the two get back to Chris’ house, and find his girlfriend cheating on him– she says she does it for attention, Chris promptly beats the other guy and kicks his girlfriend out. The Kyle Brothers then drink lots of beers with the TV on as background noise. I say all this because I found it a bizarre way to set up the film. As the two are drunk, angry, and semi-watching the news, Chris Kyle is suddenly stirred to join the military by footage of the terrorist attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. I would never doubt a person’s service to his or her country; however, for a movie based on the premise of an American hero (again, more on that later), it’s a bit disturbing to see a typical Texan turn full patriot with the only evidence being a drunken evening. I wanted more. It makes the rest of the film a bit harder to grasp and/or fight for.
The film shows viewers that Kyle is a great sniper (deemed “The Legend”) but struggles when back home, and these are the most interesting scenes. We see the initial meeting of Kyle and his wife Taya (Sienna Miller [who was somehow rocking a turquoise velvet blazer]), and early on she admits she is scared– scared of committing to a NAVY Seal who is committed to his country, scared of what will happen in their future. Kyle, understandably, is a different man when he returns home. It’s a chilling portrayal of PTSD, and Cooper nails nearly every emotion. It’s remarkable to see a film with such a big star (after all, his nomination for Sniper is his third Best Actor nomination in a row) and not think of that star persona throughout. It also helps that the film is shot rather starkly, so that Cooper can shine as an effective Kyle.
Sure I found things I didn’t like within the film– we only hear about Jeff a couple times more, and what was built up to be such a strong relationship has no conclusion. I felt a lot of the film was dumbed-down (labeling the last scene, for example, and dropping hints about the Olympics several times), and a slow-motion bullet was incredibly unnecessary. Seeing Joel from Parenthood was distracting. Whether or not you think Chris Kyle is a hero, the ending, which many say is meant to glorify his work as a volunteer to those with PTSD and not necessarily his kills as a sniper, is confusing since you spend two hours watching him solely as a sniper and tormented soldier. But– it’s only every so often a film like Sniper becomes so widely discussed in homes and around the water cooler, and that’s crucial. If an average movie with a fake baby is needed to get these discussions in our lives, so be it.