Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread he earns the nickname 'Legend.' However, his reputation is also growing behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. He faces faces a different kind of battle on the home front: striving to be a good husband and father from halfway around the world. Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, personifying the spirit of the SEAL creed to 'leave no one behind.' When he returns home to his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and kids, Chris finds that it is the war he can't leave behind.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's like being there - right in the midst of a war zone, where life and death rely on split second decisions. For Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the deadliest sniper in US history, the responsibility of making the call as to whether or not to pull the trigger, is something he does not takes lightly. Based on Kyle's book depicting his experiences, Clint Eastwood's hard-hitting film is intense, harrowing and extremely personal, as it exposes us to the immediacy, perils and unpredictability of war. It is impossible not to be moved by this affecting and confronting film whose dramatic arc canvasses context, background, personal life and the consequences.
The structure of Jason Hall's screenplay is effective in that it selects a critical moment towards the beginning of the film to take us deep into the psyche of the protagonist. In flashback, we quickly understand from Kyle's upbringing that 'protecting our own' is all-important. There are three types of people, his father tells him: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. From Texas cowboy to navy SEAL Iraq, Kyle quickly earns the reputation of 'The Legend' due to his exceptional marksmanship and ability to spot prime targets. His discomfort with the name is clear, as are his conflicted reactions each time he completed his mission.
It is while he is a SEAL in training, that Kyle meets Taya (Sienna Miller, terrific) in a bar; their love affair blossoms quickly and parenthood follows. The separations are difficult, as are the phone calls from action sites in Iraq, when Taya can hear the gunfire but does not know exactly what is happening. Cooper brilliantly combines a nuanced internal performance with that of an external physical one. He has beefed up considerably for the role, the Texan drawl an integral part.
The tone of the action scenes is similar to that of The Hurt Locker; we immersed in gunfire, danger lurking around every corner. The unpredictable can - and does - happen at any given moment. Look out for the scene in which an Iraqi local invites the soldiers to eat at his table and the sequence in which Kyle faces off with the sniper from the other side. Aim small; miss small is his motto.
After 1,000 days in Iraq over four tours, 160 kills and the loss of close colleagues, Kyle returns home only to continue to hear screams and gunfire. But this time, they are only in his head. Eastwood addresses the psychological issues effectively and with candour.
The final sequence is profoundly moving, its calm simplicity a sharp contrast to the frenetic chaos of the war action. The end credits roll in respectful silence, a fitting tribute to an exceptional patriot as well as those who serve and protect their country. This is the story of a remarkable man, as told by a remarkable filmmaker.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although it is a better written and made film then The Hurt Locker which won the Oscar, American Sniper is just as determined to ring emotional bells for an America that has lost much of its self assurance on the world stage. The cynic might say the film was made to a) bolster national pride and b) win the Oscar. Films like Still Alice, about a woman fighting dementia, and American Sniper, about a US Marin fighting for 'freedom' are certain to gain advantage at voting time.
But in its defence, American Sniper is the true story of not just 'a' US Marine, but 'the' US Marine of real life, Chris Kyle - shot dead in 2012 by a veteran soldier he was trying to help, back home in Texas after four tours of duty. Tours in which he sniped over 160 enemy combatants while protecting US soldiers.
To my way of thinking, the film ends where it should have begun, exploring that murder; how and why? Questions that may lead the filmmakers through the swamp of moral discomfort at the world's hypocrisy about America's role as the world's policeman. (For instance, what if America simply made speeches against the Taliban back then, leaving an almost defenceless Afghanistan to genocide? If not the US, then who? The UN? As if.)
But I digress - although not so much really, given that we see the motivation of Chris Kyle (Jordan Bradley in beefed up Marine mode) to join up being driven directly by what he sees happening over there on his TV.
For all its focus on Kyle's war hero actions, he isn't painted in the overbright colours of heroism, as the film (adapted from his own memoir) also shows him in great deal of pain and confusion in his family life, a direct result of his tours of duty. The question raised here, and partly answered, is why does he feel compelled to return time after time, when he can see he is damaging his relationship, and denying his family his presence. This, in my view, is the most important question explored by Clint Eastwood. The partial answer is that Kyle feels morally compelled to try and do what he can to protect his soldier buddies from an enemy he regards as barbaric. This is just as important to him as his family: that's the difficult message to sell to audiences who can't understand this.
Every soldier should put their family first and go home - which is what we all want, as long as combatants on both sides of a conflict do so, at the same time.
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AMERICAN SNIPER (MA15+)
CAST: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes
PRODUCER: Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Andrew Lazar, Robert Lorenz, Peter Morgan
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
SCRIPT: Jason Hall (book by Chris Kyle)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Stern
EDITOR: Joel Cox, Gary Roach
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Charisse Cardenas, James J. Murakami
RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 22, 2015