I wasn’t looking forward to two war movies back to back after yesterday’s “Unbroken,” but “American Sniper” is a winner. A serious winner. At 84, Clint Eastwood has directed one of his best films yet and Bradley Cooper, not one of my favorite actors, delivers a performance worthy of an Oscar nom.
A bulked up Cooper (he gained 40 pounds for the role) stars as U.S. Navy Seal Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history with over 160 “kills” on his wartime resume during four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq. A Texan who was raised to protect his own, no matter what the odds, Kyle’s pinpoint accuracy as a shooter saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname “Legend.” His reputation is a double-edged sword though as he becomes a target of the insurgents. Back at home, his wife Taya (a dark-haired Sienna Miller) notices how reluctant he is to talk about his experiences and is confused by his behavior. “Even when you’re here, you’re not here,” she says. It isn’t until late in the story that Kyle gets his equilibrium back from helping disabled veterans – only to suffer a tragic fate himself (a tragedy that Eastwood wisely chose not to reenact on screen).
Eastwood’s battle scenes are intense and expertly shot, and I got the sense as I did with “The Hurt Locker” that I was really seeing what combat is like for these soldiers. I would like to have had a better sense of his marriage and Miller doesn’t have much to work with in her role as the wife, but I appreciated that this was a story about war, not love. I also appreciated that Eastwood kept politics off the screen; there’s no moralizing for any particular position but rather a quiet portrayal of patriotism as well as the complexities of war. Highly recommended.