“American Sniper” Movie Review

    Many times in film history, movies about war have tended to be more about the war itself than about the actual men and women who had sacrificed and given themselves for the cause.  With “American Sniper”, director Clint Eastwood is very conscious of this fact, choosing to make his film more of a portrayal of the man beneath the uniform, while leaving the setting in the backdrop as it should be.  While it is often the right course to examine the big picture, this story was a case where it was important to know who Chris Kyle was and what he stood for.  As Kyle, Bradley Cooper delivers the best performance of his career, showing us the human side of a fighting man that we tend to forget exists.  Along with Eastwood, screenwriter Jason Hall does an exceptional job of adapting Kyle’s book, making sense of the chaos that ensues in what moves along at a brisk 132 minutes.

     You will likely be familiar with the opening sequence since it was featured as the primary scene in the trailer.  Kyle, a U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. sniper and his Marine assistant are perched on a rooftop in Iraq during his first tour of duty shortly after the events of 9/11.  He’s protecting a Marine convoy that is performing door to door searches looking for terrorist insurgents in war torn Fallujah.  Through his rifle scope he first see a man on a balcony overlooking the oncoming convoy speaking on a cell phone.  The suspicious character then disappears.  Seconds later, a woman and a child emerge from the front of the same building.  Kyle is reporting this to the convoy and the voice on the other end of the radio tells him he has a green light to shoot, ominously telling him “Your call.”.  Suddenly the woman pulls out a large Russian grenade and hands it to the child who begins running toward the Marine convoy.  The last words we hear are Kyle’s partner telling him “They’ll fry you if you’re wrong.”, and then Eastwood fades to Kyle’s earlier life.

     Brief scenes involving Kyle’s upbringing, as well as his experiences in B.U.D.S. lead to his first tour in Iraq where he begins to build his reputation as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history.  There are several important take aways from the Iraq war sequences Eastwood presents us with, as well as the scenes in between in which Kyle struggles between tours with short visits home.  Just prior to his first tour, he gets married to his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), and later the couple has two children.  There is a clear statement being made that the way the public views our Soldiers and Marines, and particularly Navy S.E.A.L.S., is based solely on movies, television, and news stories designed to pump up ratings, but in reality, the people and personas we see on the outside are not immortal and can be penetrated both physically and mentally.  After Kyle’s first tour, there is a clear gap between him and Taya that didn’t exist before.  He shuts her out of his world, preferring to spend time alone and away from his family.  To him, it seems every minute he’s home is another minute he should be back in Iraq doing what he can to protect the men he serves with.

     Another recurring theme involves the frustration our servicemen have when they interact with people at home who don’t appreciate the freedoms this country provides them and the lives that freedom costs in order to keep them intact.  Clearly Kyle struggles with this as well.  When one is deployed into a combat theater, the mission and lives of your fellow teammates is what becomes the most important thing.  The cause and the reasons why we are there are not up for discussion.  Kyle and the troops he is assigned with believe their is evil in Iraq because they’ve seen it with their own eyes many times.  They’ve watched atrocities committed against the people of Iraq by terrorist groups.  They’ve watched their friends blown into pieces.  Translating that belief to someone at home who’s only care in life is what they are going to fix for dinner that day is a hard sell, especially when politics and a blood lusting media come into play as people tend to believe what they see on TV.  Sometimes you’d just rather be around people who understand you instead of having to deal with people who seemingly look down on what you  do, dismissing your service as grunt work when compared to their high end education and private sector job.  How great it must be to walk around in life with you head planted firmly up your ass, knowing that their are men and women out their fighting for you and protecting you while you sleep at night.  I think a big part of “American Sniper” is conveying that point and to that extent, Eastwood succeeds.

     Over the course of four tours in Iraq, Kyle’s focus (as well as the film’s main plot) centers around his team hunting down a top Al Qaeda leader known as “The Butcher” (Mido Hamada) and a lethal sniper working under him named Mustafa (Sammy Sheik).  As these battles took place within vast cities in Iraq, the Marines tasked with hunting the terrorist leader do so primarily by searching buildings and cultivating informants from Iraqi people still living in the area.  Similar to Vietnam, the U.S. is not the home team here and the constant confusion amongst our troops as to where the fire is coming from, where their escape routes are, and how to effectively tend to the wounded all become major issues each time they go on a mission.  Eastwood’s taut direction puts the audience right along side our troops and leaves no question as to the dangers they faced each and everyday during the Iraq war.  There are times the peril is so harrowing, you wonder how in the world these guys were able to get out alive.

     Audiences tend to gravitate to films like “American Sniper” for a variety of different reasons, some of which are a poor reflection of our society and doesn’t give these men the respect they deserve.  When I wrote about last year’s exceptional film “Lone Survivor”, I talked about the “Call of Duty” video game playing generation who seem to glamorize these types of films because they think war and shooting people is cool.  Certainly from the comfortable confines of your living room, sitting in front of your big screen slurping on a 2 liter of Mountain Dew, the events depicted in a game can seem exhilarating and fun, but the point being made by “American Sniper” may go right over some people’s heads.  Smartly, Eastwood reserves the final act of his film for scenes in which Kyle, now back home and mentally damaged from his time in Iraq, visits the VA hospital and speaks with countless servicemen who weren’t as lucky as he was, having suffered the kind of injuries that are truly debilitating and life altering.  I can only hope those from these younger generations who watch “American Sniper” for the war sequences will see the message the film conveys and say thank you to these men for their service and sacrifice. Sadly, Kyle was murdered during a shooting range incident by a former Marine suffering from PTSD and never got to live out the life he earned by fighting for all of us.  To that, Eastwood and his team have created a fitting tribute that should resonate with all who served and everyone who understands the importance of our military servicemen.  GRADE: A