After a limited release, American Sniper finally opened worldwide in theatres this weekend. The Clint Eastwood directed movie is based on the true story of Chris Kyle, an American sniper during the Iraq War. Read on to find out what I thought in our American Sniper review.
The movie is based on the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, by Chris Kyle. Kyle was a Navy SEAL who is credited with 160 confirmed kills, a number which possibly reaches 255. Dubbed the “Devil of Ramadi” by Iraqi insurgants and known as “Legend” among American soldiers, Kyle is played by Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller joins the cast as his wife Taya.
The movie starts off with Kyle in Iraq, serving the roll as “overwatch” – a sniper role who watches out and neutralizes threats to soldiers conducting missions on the ground. A woman and a kid come out of a building and walk towards the convoy where the woman hands the kid a Russian made grenade.
The movie then flashes back to earlier years when Kyle was a rodeo rider. One night after a rodeo he and his brother return home to find Kyle’s girlfriend cheating on him, prompting him to kick her out. While drinking beer and discussing life on the rodeo circuit with his brother, Kyle watches a news report on TV about the Nairobi embassy bombings (which occurred in 1998) and comes to the realization that he needs to do something more.
Kyle then enlists in the Navy SEALs and we see him going through boot camp, and shortly after becoming a SEAL meeting Taya in a local bar. He continues his training, which focuses on sniping, while he courts Taya and eventually marries her. As typically seen in movies, Kyle gets the call to deploy shortly after the events of 9/11 while at his wedding ceremony which sets the stage for the struggle that ensues for Kyle between military and home life.
American Sniper then picks back up where we left off with the opening scene and Kyle has to choose what to do about the situation at hand. His spotter reminds him that “they’ll fry you if you’re wrong”. Kyle makes a choice, and is credited with his first sniper kills. We see a brief glimpse of an internal struggle as Kyle deals with his feelings about making the kill, but at the end of the day he rationalizes that he did what he had to do in order to save the lives of his fellow soldiers.
The rest of the movie alternates between Kyle’s four tours and home life. Each time he comes home he’s more distant towards his family and is constantly thinking about going back to the war where he feels he belongs. A few emotional scenes between Cooper and Miller really showcase the struggle some of these soldiers face. With 2 young kids at home, Taya tells Kyle that she’s “making memories alone” and even though he may be home in body, he’s not home in spirit and she just wants her husband back. She tries to understand why he feels the need to go back and the only answer he can give her is that he is doing it to defend her, his country, and his fellow soldiers. As is inevitable, she gives him an ultimatum of sorts stating that if he returns to Iraq again, his family might not be there when he gets back.
Of course Kyle makes the decision to go back, fueled by events from his third tour which left one of his comrades wounded at the hands of an enemy sniper he has encountered at various times over the course of his tours, and tells his friend that “You’re my brother, and they’re gonna f***ing pay for what they did to you.” Back in Iraq for a fourth tour, we witness the final confrontation between Kyle and Mustafa (the enemy sniper, who according to the movie was a Syrian Olympic gold medalist). During the operation, and surrounded by enemy soldiers he makes a call to Taya and tells her he’s ready to come home.
The war doesn’t end there though as when Kyle returns home we see home staring at a blank TV, the sounds of war filling his head while he ignores Taya’s pleas to come outside to join the party. Eventually he does venture outside, only to stop just short of beating the family dog in front of friends and family after he sees it playing rough with his son. This leads into the next scene where we see Kyle at the VA hospital speaking with a psychiatrist. Kyle tells him he has no regrets and is “willing to meet my Creator, and answer for every shot I took.” The psychiatrist then takes Kyle around the hospital, after which we see him participating in a group discussion with disabled vets who weren’t so lucky to come back without physical injuries from the war.
After this we see Kyle stepping up and befriending and helping other soldiers deal with their injuries, and as a result his family and home life return to as normal as one could expect under these circumstances. He’s shown being a good dad to both his son and daughter, and a loving husband to his wife again.
Taya tells him how proud she is of him, and we see Kyle leave the house to meet with and help another vet. Eastwood really sets up the foreshadowing of this final scene between Kyle and his family, and after we are left with real life footage of what happened next. As the credits roll without music, an eerie silence fills the theatre and everything really sinks in.
While American Sniper does portray a man at war, the real struggle it succeeds in portraying is a man struggling to balance his duty as a soldier, and his duty as a father and husband. Bradley Cooper’s performance is outstanding and well deserved of an Oscar nod for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He took on the role of Kyle, and as a result you could feel his struggle throughout the movie. Eastwood does an excellent job of translating the adapted screenplay, also up for an Oscar, into powerful and emotional visual scenes – and while the movie did get a nod for Best Picture, it’s a shame Eastwood didn’t get one for Best Director as well. Sienna Miller and the rest of the supporting cast had great performances as well, and the scenes between Cooper and Miller were very believable and the pair had great chemistry.
As with movies based on true stories, I’m curious as to how much of the movie is fact and how much remains fiction and I am looking forward to reading Chris Kyle’s autobiography. Regardless, American Sniper was well done and takes you into one man’s journey as he struggles with life as a lethal killing machine and raising a family back home.
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