I cannot in good conscience call Chris Kyle anything but an American hero. He dutifully served his county, made it back to be with his family and his death was a tragic shame. I feel genuine sorrow for his family and can only wish them the best. I genuinely hope that American Sniper is something they can be proud of.
In Clint Eastwood’s film depicting Chris Kyle’s life, both in and out of the military, we see a man who struggles to juggle so many roles. At first, Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is a cowboy with a cheating girlfriend. Then he joins the navy SEALS, making it through basic training with recruits much younger than himself. At the height of Kyle’s military career, he is known as the Legend, due to his fatally accurate sniping skills. At home, he is a husband and a father. Trying to fill all these roles, all these levels of masculinity, is exhausting, especially when the war is so hard to leave behind.
The bulk of the film takes place during Kyle’s four tours in Iraq. As the man behind the gun, Kyle does not seem to take pride in the fact that he has so many kills, but that he has saved so many of his men. Rather than lay on a rooftop waiting, at times he volunteers to help on the ground. And as the film progresses, to give Kyle a more tangible enemy, there is an Iraqi sniper that he must take out, before he takes any more of his friends.
The heart of the film is at home. Home is where Kyle becomes emotionally distant with his wife, where he visits injured friends and where he attends their funerals. One of the greatest scenes, in my opinion, was where Kyle is sitting in a bar alone. At first, it seems like a perfectly normal thing for a guy to do, just grab a beer and relax. Then his wife calls and asks when he is coming back to the states. He tells her he is stateside, his voice breaking and tears welling in his eyes. He might be just down the street. But the fact that he would rather sit alone in a bar than get back to his family as quick as possible breaks my heart. Maybe he needs some time to think, reflect, get himself ready to see his wife and kids again, or maybe it is too much to bear. Whatever the reason, that moment is what resonated with me the most.
Cooper’s Oscar nominated performance and transformation into Kyle is astounding. His physique from last year in American Hustle into this role is a dramatic change. Here, Cooper has gained a great deal of weight, muscle, a beard and a voice that makes him sound like a Texan good ol’ boy. In Silver Linings Playbook or American Hustle, I am never unaware of Mr. Cooper under that trashbag or perm, but here his image is nearly lost in this incredible transformation into Kyle. This makes three acting nominations, three years in a row for Bradley Cooper. Well done, sir!
American Sniper is nominated for six Academy awards, including Cooper’s latest lead actor nomination. The others include best adapted screenplay, film editing, sound mixing, sound editing and best picture. I’m sure Clint Eastwood was considered by much of the Academy for best director, but this year other directors simply shined brighter.
That being said, I don’t think American Sniper is far from my favorite film this year. At times, this film feels like a modern-day Sergeant York. There are so many firefights, by the time we get to the climactic point in Kyle’s military career, I was bored of all the gunfire. Worst of all, this film seems way too unsympathetic toward the Iraqi people and it does not feel like Kyle and the other soldiers are really helping the peaceful civilians there, but making their lives much worse.
American Sniper has already broken box office records and millions more will see it. The film honors a great soldier and Cooper’s performance is worth the watch. However, it is a tough film to stomach, due to a lot of gritty, realistic war violence and profanity. Watch responsibly and leave the kids at home.
“I wanted to be a cowboy, but I did that and felt I needed something more.”