Written by Jason Hall / Directed by Clint Eastwood / Starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller
Taya: If you think this war isn’t changing you, you’re wrong. You can only circle the flame for so long.
I will just get this out of the way upfront. I don’t care for Clint Eastwood movies most of the time. With the rare exception (LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA), I find his films to be painfully obvious and often times borderline offensive (CHANGELING). Some times, they are even overtly offensive (GRAN TORINO) and yet are passed off, and all too often interpreted, as these enlightened morality tales. All that said, Eastwood’s latest, AMERICAN SNIPER, is easily his best and most accomplished work in a very long time. He manages to leave his tired sense of right and wrong out of the film, which makes it at the very least watchable, but he also doesn’t put much more of anything into the film to fill that space.
AMERICAN SNIPER tells the true story of Chris Kyle, a U.S. Navy SEAL who is said to be the most effective sniper is American history, with 160 confirmed kills out of a 255 probable count. Kyle is played on film by Bradley Cooper, who continues to demonstrate that he is capable of getting lost in any part, even when there isn’t all that much to get lost in to begin with. Aside from his sniper success, Kyle is a very typical American soldier. According to Eastwood, who so loves to boil people down to their simplest impulses, Kyle is the product of Daddy issues and media manipulation. Growing up in Texas, Kyle’s father made sure he knew that there were only a few types of people out there – sheep, sheep dogs and wolves. You sure as hell don’t want to be a sheep (which is clearly pathetic) and wolves are just bullies. By default, you want to be a sheep dog, which in Kyle’s father’s eyes is a strong man who knows how to use that strength to protect the unfortunate sheep of the world. Once Kyle sees airplanes smash into buildings, he knows what his true calling is.
Before he deploys to Iraq, he meets and falls in love with a young lady named Taya (Sienna Miller, the film’s unsung hero and emotional centre). AMERICAN SNIPER then proceeds in an all too orderly fashion between combat scenes while Kyle is away killing Iraqis and emotionally messy scenes when he is home with his wife and children who miss him. This is where AMERICAN SNIPER loses me. The combat scenes are perfectly fine, and even occasionally tense, but, with the exception of one particular scene that takes place in a sandstorm, they felt fairly standard and procedural. To make matters worse, all the scenes that find Kyle stateside revolve around arguments about how he cares more about his country than this own family or demonstrate just how difficult it is for Kyle to let go of what he has seen in combat. While I am not debating whether or not this was the case for Kyle during his time serving his country, I just didn’t feel like Eastwood was bringing anything new to the table, nor was he making any comment on the war itself.
The real Chris Kyle was killed in 2013. After serving four tours in Iraq, he found his way back home both physically and in his own mind by helping rehabilitate other soldiers who had been injured in the war. It was one of these soldiers that eventually killed him. Eastwood does not get into this in the film; he doesn’t even explain how he was killed. This is unfortunate as it is the one time in the film where I felt I was seeing something original. In the end, by not focusing his aim on anything specific, Eastwood misses his target almost completely.