American Sniper

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
American Sniper
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was the most legendary sniper in American military history. He courageously served four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, protecting the lives of his fellow soldiers with his deadly eye. But, the family man is haunted by those he could not save as the greatest “American Sniper.”

Robin:
Steven Spielberg was attached to “American Sniper” as director but artistic disputes led to his quitting the film. Clint Eastwood took over helming duties and created one of his “good” recent films, with Bradley Cooper delivering his best, most complex performance to date.

Chris Kyle, during his tours of duty in Middle East, became known as Legend to the men he protected with his expert eye and steady hand. The man’s exploits of deadly accuracy and his mission to save American lives resulted in 160 confirmed kills of insurgents, making him the most prolific American sniper. The filmmakers portray Kyle’s deeds with a consuming tension as the man must make split second decisions or his men may die.

“American Sniper” also shows the impact that Kyle’s Navy SEAL life and his dedication to his job have upon his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), who must stand the isolation of a wife whose man repeatedly and voluntarily places himself in the jaws of danger. Miller does a solid, balanced job as a woman conflicted with her feelings about her husband’s chosen life and how it dramatically impacts hers.

Anyone who knows about Chris Kyle will understand the irony the filmmakers show in telling about the tragic end to the life of a man who wanted most to protect his comrades in arms. I give it a B+.

Laura:
Chris Kyle's dad taught him to shoot a rifle before he rode a bike.  He also told him that everyone is either a sheep, a wolf or a sheepdog, the latter of which confront the wolves. Years later, the former Texas rodeo cowboy decided to fight for his country after 9/11. He became a Navy Seal, known by the enemy as the 'Devil of Ramadi' and by his own as 'Legend' for his 160 confirmed kills as an "American Sniper."

Working with an adaptation of Kyle's book by Jason Hall ("Paranoia"), director Clint Eastwood has made his best film since 2006's "Letters from Iwo Jima," a movie about an American hero in Iraq whose devotion to his fellow soldiers makes him lose his own sense of self.  While some unsettling reports about Kyle's behavior (blind hatred for Iraqis, boasting about vigilante acts and killing post-Katrina looters (stories that could not be verified) and the lawsuit Jesse Ventura won against his estate for slander) have resurfaced in pre-Oscar jostling (as has been the case with "Selma's" take on LJB and "Foxcatcher" and "The Imitation Game's" liberties), Eastwood's depiction of the toll war takes on the men who fight it and Bradley Cooper's transformative performance are still worth celebrating for their craftsmanship.  Still, the sympathetic portrayal of a man who by many accounts was a jingoistic racist is the most unsettling of the charges that have been leveled against 2014's crop of fact-based films.  On to the movie...

The film's opening scene is brilliantly executed.  On a rooftop, Kyle (Bradley Cooper) sweeps a street with his scope as U.S. soldiers advance.  He sees a woman and small boy heading towards the convoy and reports his suspicions.  Told that it's his call, but that he'll also be held accountable for making it, his finger grips the trigger as the woman slips an RKG Russian grenade to the boy.  And cut to the young Kyle aiming for and shooting his first deer in the Texas woods. Five minutes in and you're gripped by Eastwood's filmmaking.

After establishing Kyle's background (he's unconcerned when a lover leaves him for inattention), Kyle's eye is caught by Taya (Sienna Miller, "Foxcatcher") in a bar, his interest piqued when she tells him Navy Seals are arrogant, self-centered jerks. He wins her over, but just after they're wed, 'the call' comes in.  Eastwood then chapters the remainder of the movie with Kyle's four Iraq tours.  The first goes back to where we began and are astonished to learn we were witnessing Kyle's first kills.  An "Enemy at the Gate"-like rivalry is established with Mustafa (Sammy Sheik, "Lone Survivor"), an Olympic gold medalist for marksmanship.  There are flashbacks to the rigors of Seal training and its accompanying colorful put downs.  The long distance phone calls that comprise most of Kyle's marriage begin with his horny pregnant wife's phone sex (Taya proves a talent for calling Chris at critical times, a bit of dramatic tweaking that goes a bit too far).  Kyle's brotherhood with fellow troops is seen when he leaves his aerie to help the men on the ground clear ten buildings, his humanity established by the anguish he experiences when a young Iraqi boy suffers a hideous fate at the hands of 'The Butcher' when an American ploy goes wrong.

As Kyle keeps returning overseas, his marriage begins to suffer as he grows more distant (the film has been compared by many to "The Hurt Locker," but Kyle isn't portrayed as a danger junkie as much as a victim of loyalty and PTSD).  In the film's central moment, Eastwood follows the bullet that traveled over a mile to take out Kyle's nemesis, an thrilling depiction of an incredible feat, but one which gives the U.S. position away.  Eastwood whips up a realistic sandstorm, a literal fog of war which finally finds his protagonist ready to return home.  For all the controversy that surrounds the man, it is undeniable that he spent much of his time back home trying to help shattered vets (his stint as a body guard for Sarah Palin is not depicted).  Eastwood closes as Chris says goodbye to Taya on his way to befriend the man who would kill him at a shooting range.  Closing credits feature footage of the motorcade to his memorial service at Cowboys Stadium.

A bulked up Cooper with jutted jaw and Texas drawl delivers his best screen performance to date, also transitioning emotionally from the easy going cowboy to withdrawn soldier.  Also unrecognizable is Miller as Taya - she faded into the background as a wife in "Foxcatcher," but here she conveys the frustration of military family life.  Eastwood cuts back and forth from tensely edited (Joel Cox and Gary Roach's cutting is top notch) war zone scenes to those of familial strife, even creating one of the former at a backyard picnic.  "American Sniper" may be too simplistic and sanctified a portrayal of its subject, but it's a solid treatise on the mental damages war inflicts on those in the trenches.

Grade:  B+
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