American Sniper

Cert: 15

Runtime: 132 mins

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Jake McDorman

       Rating:  ****

This is the 34th film to be directed by Clint Eastwood and comes as a welcome return to form following Hereafter, J Edgar and Jersey Boys, none of which really seemed to do much to enhance his reputation.

Here Eastwood is on much more familiar ground with a biopic based upon the life of Chris Kyle and adapted from his memoirs. Kyle was a highly decorated American Navy SEAL who served through four duties of Iraq before being honourably discharged in 2009. His specialism was as a sniper and he had 160 confirmed kills to his name, although the actual total could have been more than 250, which led to the insurgents putting a six figure bounty on him.

The “American Sniper” is brilliantly played by Bradley Cooper, who put on what seems almost his own bodyweight again to achieve the persona of the real Chris Kyle. The film opens in the style that takes up large sections of the action with Kyle lying on a roof top in Fallujah, gazing through a telescopic sight, this time preparing to pull the trigger on a young boy threatening to throw a grenade at his platoon.

The film suddenly switches to the young Kyle out hunting with his father in Texas and exceeding at hitting his target. The early scenes and back story imply that Kyle was always destined to be delivered to a rooftop in Fallujah using the skills he had inherited and honed to a level that made him the best marksman in US military history.

Eastwood attempts to concentrate solely on Kyle’s action in the conflict, rather than any bigger picture about what is actually going on: it’s about the man and fighting street to street in desperate circumstances. Kyle’s view of the war and those that he kills is strangely removed as he views them from a distance before firing a deadly bullet: his colleagues celebrate the kill, but he always remains passive, reflecting on what has happened.

Where this movie succeeds is that Bradley Cooper depicts Kyle’s army persona, determined to get the job done.  He leads from the front if needed, under intense pressure to make the right call in taking out a target, alongside periods of home leave, where somehow he has to decompress. Sienna Miller plays Taya his wife in her best role for some time, as they find that keeping their family life together an increasing challenge. Kyle’s insistence on continuing to go on tours of duty, whilst appearing to find returning to the humdrum world of middle America less appealing as he struggles to hold his perpetual sense of combat readiness in check, threatens to destroy their marriage.

In essence this is the movie, intense combat scenes, strongly contrasted against American life continuing unabated, viewed through the experiences of an unassuming American hero. There is little doubt that Eastwood is totally comfortable with this subject matter, the film is wonderfully delivered, there are some genuinely gripping scenes and both Cooper and Miller deliver fantastic performances.

The closing scenes with actual footage, a technique used previously, often add to a bio pic movie.  However on this occasion, whilst moving, it also felt a little too much like America celebrating a war hero.  Aside from that, this is a really good film and well worth catching.

Written by Howard Groves.