The controversial film American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, is based on the real life of Chris “Legend” Kyle, a Navy Seal who served four tours in the Iraq War. Kyle, called “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history,” boasted 160 confirmed kills.
The film, while full of high-stakes action, is not lacking in substance. Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle. His struggle to survive the battlefield with both his body and mind intact is the core of the story. This film isn’t just about Kyle’s military career””it dives deep into the murky waters of life as a veteran and the struggles to adapt to life off of the battlefield.
If there is a way to depict the emotional trauma inflicted upon the minds of soldiers and veterans on screen, while being completely engrossing as a film, Eastwood and Cooper have hit the mark.
Cooper’s performance as Kyle is passionate, practiced and smooth. From the subtle Texan accent to the display of complex emotion, Cooper just gets it. He demonstrates a reverent and honest approach in his truer-than-life character, performing with both skill and respect that is often all too scarce in the realm of biographical filmmaking.
American war films are often judged on the delicate balance between patriotism and an honest representation of reality. As Tim O’Brien describes in his novel The Things They Carried, true war stories aren’t about war; they are about the human beings who fight them. This is true for American Sniper and reflected in Kyle’s story. His humanity, broken and all, is center stage, not his rifle or the war.
The reality of Kyle’s life is complex and not simply polarized. We can’t write Kyle off as a murderer, or a hero. The answer is he is probably neither, but attempting to cling to one view diminishes the value from Kyle as a person, solider, husband and father.
Whether Kyle knew it or not, the war summoned the worst of his humanity. He has an almost numb reaction to killing children, women, and enemy soldiers. However, the war also brought his best. Somehow, through all the battles and alienation, he found himself through helping his fellow veterans heal.
Even this assessment simplifies the film and Kyle’s life. That fact alone suggests that this film is beyond cursory review. The ethical, artistic, and human attributes are dense, tangled, and are worth closer inspection.
This film, like all great films before it, interacts, challenges, and tugs at the viewer’s beliefs. No matter one’s feelings of war or the U.S., American Sniper is an exemplary and artistic depiction of the naked vulnerability and hardship of those who fight in a war and then come home.
The film’s talented star, Bradley Cooper, said it best in his interview with The Daily Beast:
“For me this movie was always a character study about what the plight is for a soldier. If it’s not this movie, I hope to god another movie will come out where it will shed light on the fact of what servicemen and women have to go through, and that we need to pay attention to our vets. It’s not a political discussion about war even. It’s a discussion about the reality that people are coming home, and we have to take care of them.”