American Sniper review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is a solid military story based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, the famed soldier that had 160 confirmed kills from his tours in Iraq. Unlike most military dramas, however, this film does away with most of the fat and keeps an impressive focus on the true tension. The opening scene is evident enough with a pulse-pounding moment that displays the anxiety of making tough calls in a dangerous situation. It’s an all too familiar scene for war movies, but Eastwood brings that special touch of humanity and personal struggle to a film packed with nerve-wracking suspense and violence.
Bradley Cooper plays Chris as a simple man who lives between two worlds. When in Iraq, he is a focused combat machine with precise efficiency. When stateside, he struggles to be a husband and a father in realm he finds harder to occupy. Chris makes it his mission to keep his wife safe as he’s been instilled since childhood from his father to protect his own. He dumps his dopey rodeo gig with his brother and joins the service to become a sniper. When deployed in Iraq, he is forced with the difficult task of dispatching hostiles against troops. He sits atop roofs, his eye buried in the scope, as he is forced to make the decision of which approaching individuals to shoot. Many of the targets come in the unsuspecting form of children. He spots a weapon in their hands and has mere seconds to determine the best course of action. Kill an unarmed civilian, you’ll face the consequences. Kill the insurgent too late, your squad could be dead.
Chris blinks and sweats mere seconds before he makes his most calculated decision to pull the trigger or not. He does his job well, but sacrifices his morality. Despite having fulfilled his duty, he still finds himself heading back to Iraq for longer stretches of time. Even after the birth of his kids, Chris still doesn’t feel safe until he has defeated his prime target that killed many of his men and civilians of the country. He promised protection to a family for information on the enemy, but failed to help them in one of the grizzliest moments. He watches helplessly as his comrades are buried one by one. If he can’t kill this one enemy, his rival being an expert assassin, all of this loss of life will have been for nothing. More importantly, it may haunt him for the rest of his days.
Eastwood makes an intelligent decision to make his war picture about the soldier and not about the war itself. There is no political statement about the conflict or a detailed examination of the enemy. We simply see Chris as a soldier who does his best to be a defender and how much of himself he loses by trying to fulfill that role. There is no padded on subplot or extra reasoning given for his inability to cope with American life after combat. The movie has no need for that. Chris is a simple man and this is a simple film about humanity. It’s plain to see from the gut-wrenching scenes of brutal violence that is treated with cold reality and little theatrics. We know what is going through Chris’ mind more or less and the movie doesn’t spoon feed it to the audience.
When not treated to the gritty war settings, we see Chris struggling just as hard to adapt to his home life. When he returns stateside, he finds himself drawn to a bar. He does not confess his problems to the barkeep or display any signs of despising his wife. He’s just there. He calls his wife and has no words for why he is there either. Maybe he just needs a breather before switching gears or maybe the bar is his temple. When he’s actually dealing with people, he’s a mess. After the birth of his baby girl, he bangs on the window of the nursery to alert the nurses that his baby is crying with nobody to console her. When some boys are roughhousing with a dog and the pooch gets the upper-hand, Chris finds himself mere seconds from bashing the dog’s brains in with a beer bottle.
Bradley Cooper completely sells the role of a soldier from his beefed up figure to his grizzled beard. He melts into Chris’ life whether he’s covered in combat armor or the trademark civilian clothes of a hoodie and baseball cap. There isn’t a moment where Cooper gets to eat up the scenery and there doesn’t need to be. It’s a remarkable performance for how simple and subtle it portrays the quiet and flawed life of a sniper. Eastwood has crafted a very telling war film that manages to be a raw vision of the 21st century soldier. It has so much to say in that it doesn’t say too much. What’s there on screen is what’s there and it doesn’t sugar coat to fit any proper drama or narrative. This is made all the more evident by an ending that doesn’t add anything extra to Chris’ eventual demise. All we get is our protagonist, his drive, his family, his mission and his behavior. It’s up to us to decide how we view him.