I waited a while before seeing this film; two reasons. First, I think I burnt out on the slew of post 9-11 war films like Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty and I knew this would be more of the same. Secondly, and more importantly, since the story is based in Texas about a Texan and I live in Texas, I knew every detail already. The six degrees of separation phenomenon is exceedingly efficient here in the Lone Star state.
If you don’t know the story of Chris Kyle, I’ll summarize. He was Texan who trained to be a Navy SEAL and sniper. His job – cover the asses of the soldiers on the ground in Iraq. He was good. So good, in fact, during his 4 tours of Iraq, he earned the title ‘Most Lethal Sniper’. Likely this title prompted him to write his autobiography, ‘American Sniper’, which was subsequently turned into this film by Clint Eastwood. When Kyle returned from his last tour, he started counseling other vets having trouble integrating back into their stateside lives. It was one of those vets who ‘allegedly’ shot and killed him in 2013.
‘Allegedly’, since the trial in this case just started last week.
Eastwood deserves credit here for telling Kyle’s story with balance and compassion. He weaves together details of his youth and motivation for becoming a SEAL, along with some tense ‘on-ground’ moments in Iraq, his desire to be on the ground with Marines rather than perched on a rooftop and the side-effects it had for his family back home. In the final scene, Kyle leaves with a vet and in slow motion we see them get into a truck and the camera switches back and forth between them and a slightly concerned look on his wife’s face. Roll credits. A good production choice, to me, since the details of what followed that scene are omitted and, back in real life, currently on trial.
Bradley Cooper has come a long way since Hangover. Beefed up and bearded, he looked like Kyle and he even managed to nail his Texas accent perfectly. My grandfather , who was Navy in WW2, used to tell me there are soldiers and then there are warriors. Soldiers do their job then come home to their families. Warriors visit their families then come back to their lives on the battlefield. Kyle was a 4-tour warrior who eventually found a way to integrate his family and be happy. Cooper does an amazing job portraying a warrior struggling to reconcile his life on the battlefield with his life in back home in Texas.
In the theatre, as the credits were rolling, I looked around. Not a dry eye in the house, no one was engaged in post-film discussion, no one was concerned about checking new messages on their phones. Whether or not this happens on a national scale is speculative but locally this film continues to make a huge emotional impact on its viewers, which is likely what Eastwood intended.
Whatever your viewpoint on war and guns, I recommend American Sniper for its Eastwood production style, a career-defining performance from Cooper and to gain insight into why men like Chris Kyle do what they do.