Chris Kyle (portrayed by Bradley Cooper), the most lethal sniper in US history, has his biography told on the screen in the new war film “American Sniper.” The film covers Kyle’s four tours in the military as a Navy SEAL and his life after the military where he tries to cope with his personal demons.
“American Sniper” was unlike any war film I had ever seen before. It focused very little on the glory, gore and sensationalized nature of war and instead chose to show what war does to people. Kyle didn’t join the war because of a desire for glory – the impetus came from an inherent need to protect his country and bring justice to America’s enemies. This is depicted very well throughout the film. I never once felt like Kyle enjoyed his job. It was his duty and he did it well. Never once did he glory in his job, even when he finally achieved his highest goal while in the Middle East.
It is very obvious from the onset that he is troubled by the killing he does. Juxtaposed to that is his fellow soldiers who are nearly caricatures of the stereotypical jarhead who revels in killing “savages.” Those around Kyle are vulgar and take pleasure in what they do. Kyle is often chastised by them for his grief in response to his actions. This was a refreshing thing to see in a war movie. There have definitely been instances of this in other war films (Columbia Picture’s “Fury” for example), but it was done with more finesse in “American Sniper.”
Another theme in “American Sniper” that has not been covered often in war films was Kyle’s struggle of serving his family and his country. His long absences put a massive strain on his relationships with his wife and his children. Kyle is asked at one point why he cannot leave the military to be with his family. His response is that he is serving them by protecting them overseas. This raises a wonderfully thought-provoking question as to which duty is more important – family or country?
The film doesn’t answer the question but forces the audience to ponder it.
As much as “American Sniper” was a film about war, it was also a brilliant depiction of what plagues soldiers when they return home. After his honorable discharge, Kyle spends the remainder of his life working with disabled veterans to help them find meaning in their life. At the same timer this helps Kyle find meaning in his own life and overcome his PTSD.
I appreciated them placing some focus on this part of his life. It is an area that most war films are lacking in.
My biggest complaint with “American Sniper” was not one of story or theme but of technique. There is a scene about two-thirds of the way through the film where Kyle and several other soldiers get caught in a sandstorm. The quality of this scene on a technical level was dreadful. I was completely taken out of the story because the scene looked like it had been filmed on a $20 camcorder. I’ve rarely seen poorer quality in a Hollywood film.
All in all, this was a quality war film that asked many important questions about the nature of warfare. It also brought coverage to the state of veterans. Director Clint Eastwood has been off his game lately, but “American Sniper” was a clear return to the quality of his earlier directorial work.
Matt Whitney is a senior film production major. This review reflects the opinion of the writer only.