American Sniper is a biopic action drama picture directed by the accomplished cowboy spaghetti western hero turned director Clint Eastwood. It is inspired from the autobiography and real life memoirs of Chris Kyle which is titled: American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. On the celluloid format of the cinema, Bradley Copper (Hangover trilogy, Silver Linings Playbook) plays the protagonist and puts himself in the shoes of the larger than life persona of Chris Kyle and does full justice to his role in the process.
To the uninitiated and those lacking insight into who Chris Kyle was, Chris Kyle was considered as one of the most lethal and deadliest snipers in the modern American Military history with well over 160 confirmed kills to his credit. He was able to accumulate and amass this huge tally during the duration of his four tours of duty in Iraq from 2003 to 2009 due to his excellent proficiency, dexterity and prowess with the long barrel rifle. He belonged to the elite Navy SEALs division of the United States Military.
The American Sniper tries to embody and exemplify Chris Kyle’s jingoistic patriotism albeit almost to a fault. Bradley Cooper is worthy of much deserved kudos for emulating Kyle’s character on the big screen with such tactful nuance, from copying his Texan accent and mannerisms with such exactitude, to putting on 40 pounds of additional weight to look the part on screen. However, having said that, Clint Eastwood in his pursuit to give Chris Kyle a befitting hero’s tribute and homage sometimes goes a tad beyond the realm of belief. He tries to focus more on the myth that enveloped him rather than the real man. A man which one might add, was heroic and courageous nonetheless but not without or devoid of any personal shortcomings or flaws.
Digressing from that, holistically, this movie is more about a depiction of a soldier coping with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and how he struggles to adapt to the normal life back home away from the ravages and horrors of war in the war-torn Iraq. It shows how combat warfare impacts a person and the emotional toll it takes on him and sucks the vitality out of him apart from the obvious physical harm. In that degree, the director has somewhat succeeded but the heart and life-force of the movie remains those tense, nerve wrecking and adrenaline filled action sequences that are masterfully crafted, in these instances Eastwood comes into his own but they are few and far between.
Although, there’s a dearth of abundant action scenes in the movie but when they do appear they excellently complement the gritty narrative of the movie. It will be a delight for action enthusiasts along with whetting their appetite. Among such action scenes is the pursuit of self-proclaimed Butcher of Fallujah coupled with the hunt for the Syrian born insurgent sniper, whose sniping skills challenge and rival those of Kyle’s, there is no clear and present antagonist or villain in the movie, but the Syrian born Iraqi sniper insurgent comes close to being Kyle’s arch nemesis.
The movie is not seething with violence as the gratuitous violence is kept to a minimum but it is a visceral and a raw experience nonetheless, with adequate but restrained blood, gore and death. The only difference is that these vicious and graphic scenes either propels or aids the movie in progressing further in the story rather than being present there just for the sake of cheap thrills.
The high point of the movie is set amongst the backdrop of a rooftop battle and an impending sandstorm in which Chris manages to subdue and eliminate his Iraqi sniper counterpart from more than a mile away. To one’s surprise, this particular scene is not a figment of director’s imagination but inspired from a real life scenario in which Chris Kyle eliminated an Iraqi insurgent in Sadr City.
Sienna Miller (Taya Renae Kyle) portrays the initial love interest and later on the wife of Chris Kyle. Her acting potential hasn’t been truly realized in this movie and she is mediocre at best. Instead, she is either shown crying, worrying or being tormented by his husband’s presence in the unrestrained death trap that is Iraq. One might say that it is perfectly understandable; logic dictates that maybe a wife goes through these sentiments when one’s husband is serving in such a hostile place but the audience will notice that after seeing the quality of acting being displayed by Cooper, anything that precedes it in terms of acting is equivalent of being white noise.
Another overbearing feeling one will have when seeing this movie is the stark familiarity with movie The Hurt Locker, one can’t help but to draw an outright parallel between these two as both of these are set in Iraq and portrays characters from American military armed forces. However, the action drama interspersed with emotional depth of character(s) is explored more efficaciously in Hurt Locker as oppose to American Sniper. It’s rather sad that a director of Clint Eastwood’s caliber wasn’t able to truly elevate this movie like he did with his other works such as Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino or Unforgiven.
With context to movies that are from the larger sniper action genre, it fails to hold its own among films that have either a more intriguing story plotline or action thrills. Movies such as Enemy at the Gates, Shooter and Sniper fare far better in terms of delivering satisfying thrills. But then again, American Sniper tries to be an emotional drama coupled with few action sequences here and there. Unfortunately, while trying to portray this hybrid drama cum action film feature, Clint Eastwood manages to construct a muddled affair that is neither a solid entertainer nor indulges those that are looking for some profound emotional gratification while seeing this movie.
It also doesn’t portray how Chris Kyle actually died in real life. Instead of dying on the battlefield, he was killed in cold blood and rather unceremoniously by a 25 year old Marine Corps veteran Eddie Ray Routh at a shooting range in his home state of Texas.
To explain this movie in an appropriate analogy: American Sniper is like a bullet projectile fired from a suppressed tactical rifle which fails to hits its mark while also acting as a glorified eulogy for its subject, Chris Kyle . I’d give it a 3.5/5.
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