Movie Review: American Sniper (Tour of Duty Edition)

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He was actually staring intently at keyboard cat doing his thing.

What’s it about

American Sniper, is an adaptation of the autobiography of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). Recently nominated for 6 Academy Awards, this Clint Eastwood directed movie chronicles Kyle’s transformation from wannabe rodeo cowboy to the most lethal man in US military history. Chiefly, the movie deals with the effects of war on Kyle and his psyche, including the distance created between Kyle’s commitment to the military and his family, especially his wife Taya (Sienna Miller).

The Awesome

Introspection: This movie is quite unlike most military related films. Sure, soldiers still stick to walls and do all of that fancy tactical movement. However, the movie isn’t really all that action-oriented. Instead, the movie focuses on the many personal moments of Kyle’s life as he serves four tours of duty, ranging from not only his toughest moments on the battlefield but also, the courtship and eventual deterioration of his relationship with his wife. It’s certainly a different way to frame a war movie but this stripped-back approach is one that lends a very different perspective to the genre. While others may find it slow, I found it quite a refreshing change of pace in a war flick.

"Stay with me, Chris. And our fake plastic baby."
“Stay with me, Chris. And our fake plastic baby.”

Grappling With Duty: A big focal point of the movie is the tug of war between Kyle’s sense of duty and the needs of his family. Between every tour of duty he spends in the Middle East, Kyle is changed by the horrors of watching his fellow brothers fall in battle and the slaughtering of innocents. As such, Kyle isn’t able to be the husband or father that his family need. Yet, he keeps going back. Why? Out of loyalty to his fallen brothers? Or is it blind duty to his country? It’s a massive struggle that’s really interesting to watch play out on screen.

Tension-filled:  Trailers for the film have been highlighted by one moment in particular – Kyle takes out a man carrying a rocket launcher. A young boy sees the launcher and moves towards it, looking like he’s about to pick it up. Kyle prays hard that he doesn’t… before the trailer cuts away. The movie, like others in the genre such as Lone Survivor, is filled with lots of moments like that, where his character has to make extremely tough split-second moral choices in super high stake situations. One wrong call and protecting your fellow soldiers could turn into the act of killing an innocent. The stakes get even higher when Kyle starts to develop a rivalry with an enemy sniper, a Syrian shooter who actually won a medal at the Olympics. (Am I the only person who finds that to be hilarious?)

The Coop Show: Bradley Cooper does a fine job of portraying Chris Kyle the way the movie wants to portray him to be. Transforming from a free rodeo cowboy to a sniper who entrusts himself with the impossible task of saving every solider on the battlefield, Cooper puts in a believably battle-weary performance. He’s intense, on edge and you can feel the weight on his massive shoulders threatening to break him down in just about every frame of the movie.

Not So Sure About That…

Neutered: Perhaps Clint Eastwood wanted to focus more on the patriotism. Or perhaps it was the real life involvement of Taya Renae Kyle in the making of the film… but whatever reason it is, the portrayal of Chris Kyle feels almost too safe, respectful and may I say… sugarcoated? At times, it seems that this portrayal of the man is really a little bit more introspective than he really would have been, burying the complex anti-hero vibes of the character under a safer, shinier coat of paint.

Shaky Acting: Sienna Miller, never known to be a particularly strong actress, has some struggles crying/acting in emotional scenes with Cooper.

Fake Baby!: Yep. This happened. There’s a scene where a fake baby was used. It’s REALLY distracting.

Verdict: 3.5/5

Although the portrayal of Chris Kyle may be a little too much on the safe side, American Sniper still features a great natural leading man performance from Bradley Cooper. Clint Eastwood’s steady directing hand makes this an occasionally heartbreaking character driven war film that manages to capture the toil of physical and mental anguish that war puts their heroes through.

To watch or not to watch…

Definitely Watch If…

Avoid This If…

  • You’re a war movie junkie.
  • You’re squeamish. This is pretty graphic at times.
  • You appreciate the intricacies: not everything has to explode.
  • You can’t stand a slower storytelling pace.
  • You love a good character-centric movie.
  • You don’t like “true story” movies.