MANILA, Philippines–How many people do you have to kill before it starts to take a toll on you? United States Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle racked up an official body count of 160 confirmed kills during his four tours in Iraq, establishing him as the single most lethal US sniper ever.
The biopic “American Sniper,” based on Kyle’s own recollections, shows us that those kills did not come without a heavy price.
The movie is based on the best-selling 2012 memoir “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in US Military History” by Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice, published by William Morrow and Company.
Originally given as a joke, Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is dubbed “Legend” because of his precision, making the troops under his protection feel safer even as it made him the most wanted man in Iraq.
Kyle is driven almost maniacally to do his job, but discovers it is much more difficult to switch that instinct off whenever he goes home to his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and his family.
As he becomes obsessed with taking down a dangerous rival enemy sniper, he finds that the war never stops for him, regardless of where he is.
“American Sniper” caught some unaware when what they thought was just another American-centric war movie was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Prominent in the movie’s arsenal is Clint Eastwood, directing his first film since 2012’s “The Trouble with the Curve.”
Eastwood brings a palpable precision and a brisk urgency to the film, adding tension to the fictionalized and streamlined life story of Kyle. Eastwood clearly knows what he’s doing, and the screenplay received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Jason Hall.
But “American Sniper’s best weapon is Cooper—all muscular and bearded—who, after delivering a memorable turn in “American Hustle,” basically transforms in Kyle for this film, a performance clearly worthy of the Oscar nomination for Best Actor, his third acting nomination.
You seriously forget that it’s Cooper in costume and not Kyle in uniform. Cooper’s hot-cold, dispassionate-passionate swings give life to the character of the sniper, showing the seesaw between a killing machine and an ordinary man, between the soldier and the husband.
“If you think that this war isn’t changing you, you’re wrong,” Miller’s Taya accuses Kyle. “You can only circle the flames so long.”
“American Sniper” easily evokes other war films, with its sniper-versus-sniper subplot recalling “Enemy at the Gates” and the burden of being in battle echoing “The Hurt Locker.”
Both observations are accurate, because in many ways, “American Sniper” follows the line of well-made modern war movies such as “Black Hawk Down” and, more recently, “Lone Survivor.”
“American Sniper” will be accused of everything from being jingoistic propaganda to glorifying gun violence, but it also tries to present on film the devastating personal effects of waging war on the individual, as Kyle begins to experience what is apparently Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In that sense, Eastwood allows “American Sniper” to follow the unusual rhythms of Kyle’s own conflicted life with a human existence squarely in the film’s crosshairs.
Eastwood’s direction and Cooper’s wounded, powerful portrayal turn “American Sniper’s” titular character a moving target made from the warrior at war with himself.
Warner Bros.’ “American Sniper” is now showing in cinemas.