Bradley Cooper gives a bravura performance as Chris Kyle, the hero of “American Sniper.” Unfortunately, as presented on-screen, the film’s execution doesn’t measure up to the real person, and over the course of more than two hours, becomes too repetitive. Directed by Clint Eastwood with screenplay by Jason Hall, based on Chris Kyle’s memoir, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, written by Kyle, Scott McEwen and James Defelice, the film delves into Kyle’s childhood, his rodeo career, enlistment into the military, marriage and fatherhood, and most importantly, his years as a Navy SEAL and four tours of duty in Iraq.
“American Sniper” opens in Iraq with Chris zeroing in on a young target in his sights. The film then powerfully jumps back in time to his home in Texas and a hunting lesson with a young Chris (Cole Konis) and his father, Wayne (Ben Reed). We see that even at a young age, Chris is an excellent shot. Chris’ father is a stereotypical Texas good-old boy, who seems to be all about God, country and hunting. Anything less than “manning up” is unacceptable to him. Younger brother, Jeff (Luke Sunshine), is weaker than Chris and seemingly in Chris’ shadow for the rest of his life. The boys grow up and become bronco rodeo riders. Although successful, Chris isn’t fulfilled and enlists, becoming a Navy SEAL. Interestingly enough, brother, Jeff (Keir O’Donnell), also enlists in the military. Prior to his first tour, Chris meets and marries Taya (Sienna Miller). Soon after he is married, he heads off to Iraq. The film shows that Chris doesn’t take his first kill lightly…that it does weigh on him…but he gets on with the mission at hand. Over time, Chris is known for his sharpshooting skill and his number of kills, earning him the nickname, “Legend.” Chris is matter-of-fact about his accomplishments which wins him the respect and friendship of his fellow soldiers. Although Chris is home for the birth of his first child, a son, it’s easy to see that he doesn’t feel completely at ease there, thinking he should be back with his fellow soldiers. Over the course of four tours, his time at home is more and more strained, especially when he becomes a father again. He goes back to Iraq, but during his fourth tour, Chris seems to realize that when it’s done, it’s time for him to be home for good. But being stateside is easier than it sounds. Chris has flashbacks, violent outbursts and more. It’s not until he tells a VA psychiatrist that he is “haunted by all the guys he couldn’t save,” that he finally finds the road back to a fulfilled life.
Clint Eastwood would seem to be an excellent directing choice for “American Sniper.” He does capture the camaraderie of the soldiers especially well. The good-natured ribbing, even while waiting on targets to make a move, comes off as very genuine. He also does a very good job in showing how boring the life of a sniper can be…the hours of just waiting for movement…while still remaining sharp. Unfortunately for a movie viewer, sitting there waiting with Chris and the other men isn’t very interesting and while the players may change a little over four tours, it feels like one is watching the same thing over and over. And while Eastwood does show us Chris’ home life and the strain tours take on families in general and his in particular, there just isn’t enough of what Chris does to overcome this and get on with his life. We see some of this activity, but it would be meaningful learning more. Eastwood concludes the film on a somber note. To underscore the solemnity, the ending film credits roll in silence. It’s a brilliant touch.
As noted earlier, Bradley Cooper gives an outstanding performance as Chris Kyle. He’s very believable as a man who sees things in terms of black and white, who loves his country and his family—both military and familial. Sienna Miller, as Chris’ wife struggling to cope with the changes she sees in Chris, is also very convincing. The supporting cast of actors playing soldiers is extremely good and those actors make the film feel very realistic.
Unfortunately, even with compelling performances, “American Sniper” too often feels repetitive and flat. The man himself was anything but, and it’s too bad the film doesn’t capture more of that spirit.
2 ½ nuggets out of 4