War on film is almost always a surefire way to fill theater seats. Not only can the action sequences be intense and thrilling but the element of human drama is heightened in a way that can leave many breathless and wanting more. The new Clint Eastwood-directed soldier drama American Sniper is not only a powerful picture of epic proportions but it is based on a profound true story, that of United States Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, a sharpshooter with 160 confirmed kills who is considered to be the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. Talented actor Bradley Cooper portrays the legendary marksman and it is one of the actor’s most brilliant performances to date.
Based on Kyle’s memoir American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, Eastwood’s film is the intense biographical drama of a man who many either see as an American hero or a ruthless mass murderer. With four tours in Iraq, Kyle is responsible for at least 160 Iraqi deaths. While this may seem like a courageous feat in a post-9/11 world, many also feel that Kyle’s kills were brutal and unnecessary. This is where most of the controversy surrounding this film stems from and with audiences divided on the issue, American Sniper is a fantastic war film and one that shouldn’t be bogged down by politics.
Cooper is terrific as Kyle, everything from his Texas twang to his burly physique. The focus and intensity he brings to the role is probably very smellier to how the real Kyle approached his job as a SEAL. With this parallel firmly in place, Cooper was destined to be commended for his work and he was with many accolades including a recent Academy Award nomination (his first) and many calling this his greatest performance yet. All of this is true and it further showcases the actor in an exciting new frontier, that of a factual war film.
With the searing drama focused on Kyle and his off-duty post traumatic stress creeping up on him, American Sniper is as much an action film as it is a story of family and sacrifice. The gorgeous Sienna Miller plays his wife Taya and her performance here is adequate at best. She’s beautiful for sure but she’s really just a pretty face filled with tears throughout most of the picture. Thankfully the spotlight shines brightly on Cooper so we don’t get much of Miller’s whininess.
Aside from the film’s controversy which surrounds Kyle’s actions and military service, something else is perplexing and that is Clint Eastwood, who at 84 years of age has managed to direct a film as tough and action-packed as American Sniper. Most of the picture is fantastic action sequences, very fast-paced, and ferocious. It’s just weird to think a man in his 80s was responsible for such technical genius. He probably had assistant directors picking up much of the slack and now he’s getting the credit. Nevertheless, this is a very solid action/drama that can in some ways be the Saving Private Ryan of the Iraq war. Few films manage to capture the absolute ferocity of war and combine that with character drama and art. The Hurt Locker comes close but American Sniper is an entertaining and energetic film that regardless of its political agenda, is an absolute gem.