American Sniper is a biopic war movie, directed and co-produced by Clint Eastwood to a screenplay written by Jason Hall. It is based on Chris Kyle's autobiography American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, which he co-wrote with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice.
It is challenging to write a review about a film depicting a war hero, as a very thin line separates the movie from its subject matter. Thus the following post does not seek to judge Chris Kyle, the person, but rather discuss the depiction of his character and story in American Sniper. Kyle, who claimed 255 kills, 160 of which officially confirmed by the Department of Defense, is considered the deadliest U.S. military marksman in recorded history. He was killed at the age of 38, at a gun range, while trying to assist another veteran suffering from PTSD. Hundreds and possibly thousands of people lined up along the funeral procession to honor him.
Whether Kyle was, as some critics dare say, a trigger-happy hoodlum who found a legal way to kill, or a person to whom many Americans owe their lives, is not a question the film addresses. Eastwood treats Kyle as a patriot who, post 9/11, without a second thought, followed the call to serve. Yet, every good story, whether based on real events or total fiction, needs to have its main character go through a transformation. The change that occurs for the American Sniper’s protagonist is short in duration and late to arrive. It happens when Kyle finally departs from the war in Iraq, and repurpose his life around his family as well as helping wounded veterans. It is a noble transformation and one that could have been served better by arriving earlier in the story, on the account of one less battle scene.
This is not the only miss of director Eastwood. American Sniper as a whole, despite Bradley Cooper’s masterful performance, is shallow. Cooper practically inhabits the character, and Eastwood allows no other person to get anywhere close to the center of attention. This only further contributes to the flat dimension of good and evil. Thus, in essence, American Sniper is nothing more than a modern Western of bad guys vs. the lone rider that saves the day. That is unfortunate as there is so much more dormant potential in this story. Kyle is a person who craves and live by a cause. If he would have been born in Germany and served in WWII, he would have likely been just as efficient. Or would he? Though Eastwood shows Kyle expressing doubt whenever he finds himself needing to pull the trigger on children, as unfortunately was often the case in Iraq, something feels off; like it is more a show put on for the audience than a true internal debate. We know he will take the shot. This, again, is not judgment against Kyle, the real person, but rather the way he is being depicted on the screen.
American Sniper falls short and does not deserve a comparison made by some to The Hurt Locker. Yet, it is still a story well-worth seeing, celebrating a man whose life ended way too soon.