By Matt Jorgensen
Director Clint Eastwood’s latest movie American Sniper certainly has his classic aesthetic feel, with gritty, quiet, and tense moments delivered at the same level of suspense and thrill as the scenes with more action. I found it akin to Gran Torino in that regard. This is certainly a war movie at its best, with moments of emotion to being on the edge of your seat.
Bradley Cooper plays Navy S.E.A.L. Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. He ended his career with 160 confirmed kills. From the surface, it might be expected that the man was a killing machine with no intention except the mission. But the film certainly sheds a different light than that and Cooper gives a great performance to accomplish this.
The film doesn’t simply follow Kyle through his past tours in the Middle East. The film follows his life, beginning with his father teaching him how to shoot a hunting rifle. We even see the moment that drives Kyle to join the military, which is a gripping scene that should go unspoiled. The film then jumps from scenes during his missions to his home life, which was blended together very well thanks to both the writing and acting. Kyle isn’t necessarily portrayed as the “All-American hero,” which is more than likely what Eastwood wanted to avoid. On the contrary, he’s conveyed as a broken, haunted man who can’t seem to escape his thoughts of war and the bloody scenarios he’s faced with (which we see in all of its sorrowful glory.) Cooper does an outstanding job of playing a SEAL who hates war but can’t allow himself to fully depart from it. Showing his reasons for continuously touring was certainly effective. Eastwood makes his audience understand the mind of a soldier, which makes this film a sufficient character study.
There was never a moment in the film that I felt was designed as entertainment propaganda. We see the horrors of war as exactly how they are. My only complaint is that I would have liked to see more of the other side. I think seeing more of the gray areas and showing the insurgents with their families, per se, would have added another layer to the narrative. Otherwise, this was one of Cooper’s best performances and Eastwood’s best directions.