Director Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper portrays the “legend” Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a deadly Navy SEAL sniper who toured four times in Iraq. As the face of an American hero, Cooper gives a spectacular performance depicting Kyle as he struggles to cope with the traumas of war. Earning a record-setting $105 million at the box office on its opening weekend debut, American Sniper is also Eastwood’s highest grossing film.
Chris Kyle is first introduced as a sweetheart cowboy wooing women with his Texas charm. When a news station shows a video of the 9/11 attack, a sense of duty arises in Kyle and he uses his already skillful precision to become a sniper for the Navy SEALs. The truly groundbreaking aspect is that throughout the course of the film, the audience sees Kyle’s steady decline as he brings the war home with him. A once friendly, neighborhood cowboy slowly grows cold and hard. As he returns from each tour, the line grows blurry between his duty as a soldier and his duty as a husband/father. Sienna Miller gives an accomplished performance as Kyle’s concerned wife who immediately notices her husband’s change in personality. The audience crumbles as she does.
What lacks in American Sniper is the perspective of his children. Even at a young age, the constant absence of their father had to at least bring up a few questions. The birthday party scene could have been elaborated on, especially since Kyle’s children did not seem to wonder exactly why their father was acting different. When Kyle observes their dog playfully attacking his son, he whips out his belt and the audience would squirm in their seats. Luckily, Kyle’s wife stops him before he does so, but surely someone at that birthday party must have been a bit concerned.
However, Kyle’s innocence and vulnerability during particular scenes in Iraq reassures the audience that deep down, the old Kyle is still in there. Most of that emerges when Kyle is faced with the decision of shooting armed children. Eventually, as his troop is under heavy attack, Kyle breaks down and calls his wife, desperately telling her that he is ready to go home. That’s when the audience has the most faith that at least part of the old Kyle has returned.
As for the dynamic of Kyle’s troop, the bond seems a bit forced. In many war films, there are archetypes that repeat themselves.The amusing soldier who provides comic relief has been seen in cinema far too many times and Biggles, played by Jake McDorman, does not stand out. Perhaps this is a purposeful tactic by Eastwood so that the audience recognizes how much Kyle is the lone wolf no matter how close to the troop he is. But it is hard to feel Kyle’s pain when the audience does not feel a bond with the soldiers to begin with.
However, the technique in editing drastically helped the film. Kyle’s struggle in balancing two worlds is emphasized to the viewer in dramatic cuts and flashbacks between scenes.
Following up his Silver Linings Playbook nomination, this Oscar nod is again well-deserved for the nearly recognizable Cooper. The audience is so fixated on what lingers in Kyle’s mind we forget the man under all of those layers of pain.
The film’s abrupt ending left the audience wanting more, however, as it is simply cut short. Regardless, when the entire theatre is silent while the credits are rolling, that is when you know this film leaves us speechless.
Sammi Brennan can be reached at Samantha.firstname.lastname@example.org.