American Sniper

American Sniper
Made in: USA
Language: English, Arabic
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Eric Ladin, Sammy Sheik, David Negahban
Year: 2015

Synopsis: Based on the autobiographical account of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper), credited as the most lethal marksman in American history. The story focuses on Kyle's early life as a professional rodeo cowboy in rural Texas. Later he meets Taya Renae (played by Sienna Miller) while frequenting a bar, whom he eventually marries.

In 1998, Kyle gains a larger sense of focus after he sees news coverage of the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. This motivates him to enlist in the US Navy, where he decides to join the elite Navy SEALs. He survives the grueling training regimen, and is later assigned to the sniper element of SEAL Team 3, within the Naval Special Warfare Command.

Soon after the invasion of Iraq, Kyle is shipped off to war. Right in the thick of combat, his duty as a marksman is to protect marines on the ground as they go door-to-door in abandoned urban areas in search of insurgents. His first kills, however, are a woman and young boy. Both were targeting US Marines, and although his actions are deemed "appropriate" they clearly impact his conscience.

After achieving a high number of confirmed kills, Kyle soon earns the nickname "legend" by his fellow soldiers. To the Iraqi insurgents, he's known as the "Devil of Ramadi" with ever increasing bounties being placed on his head.

Eventually, Kyle finds himself and his unit on the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the infamous Al-Qaeda leader. With each successive tour becoming more and more dangerous, Chris Kyle becomes increasingly torn between family and duty. Comrades fall and the psychological toll of combat strains his marriage and family life, yet he is drawn back to the battlefield with a near-obsessive focus.

When he makes it home, however, memories of the war haunt him and cripple his ability to readjust to civilian life. With the help of a Veterans Affairs psychiatrist, Kyle is encouraged to share his experiences and reach out to wounded veterans. With a renewed purpose, his relationship with Taya and his daughters begins healing. But one afternoon in 2013, Kyle and a friend are both killed by Eddie Ray Routh, a former Marine whom they were trying to help. According to Routh's mother, he had been suffering from severe PTSD.

Remarks: As a film, American Sniper is gripping. Bradley Cooper does an amazing job conveying the psychological turmoil of a soldier having been exposed for so long in a war zone. The character arc of Chris Kyle, as expressed in the film, is as intense as the action. Yet Clint Eastwood creates a film that isn't preachy, nor does it pander to any particular ideology.

But as an adaptation of real-life events, American Sniper does seem a bit too Hollywood at times. For instance, the introduction of "Mustafa" (Sammy Sheik), an enemy sniper, feels forced. In real life, there was talk of an Olympic sharpshooter-turned-insurgent who was running around sniping American soldiers. But according to Kyle's memoir, he never encountered Mustafa the way he does in the film. 

Mustafa's sole purpose on screen is to be the "bad guy," which pretty much boils down to a simplistic narrative device. I'm sure anyone who's read the actual memoir will be able to point out many other artistic liberties.

There's no intended political bias, but what we audience members bring to American Sniper will no doubt influence their perception of the film. Many hot-button issues surrounding the invasion of Iraq are present, such as the many arguments Americans have either in support or opposition to the war.

Kyle insists that he wants to protect American lives, no doubt a statement that will garner a variety of emotional reactions from the viewers. And at the same time, one of Kyle's closest friends, and fellow SEAL, wonders if the war is a lost cause. 

It certainly can be said that Chris Kyle was protecting the lives of fellow soldiers. But how does being part of an occupying force in a foreign country protect Americans at home? This thought will enter our minds. Although clearly sympathetic to Chris Kyle and his service, Clint Eastwood, to his credit, doesn't tell us what to think when it comes to the bigger picture of American foreign policy.

With a running time of over two hours, American Sniper does somehow feel a bit incomplete. The film stays focused on Kyle and his experiences, and it's hard not to let our minds wander into the multitude of other political matters that surround the subject matter. It's intense and emotional, but not Eastwood's finest work. However, it's definitely worth seeing and discussing in spite of the many cinematic embellishments taken from real life events.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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