AMERICAN SNIPER (2014)


american sniper Greetings again from the darkness. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”. Shakespeare wrote those words for “Henry IV”, but director Clint Eastwood’s latest film depicts the sentiment for Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sharpshooter known as “Legend”. Screenwriter Jason Hall adapted the story from Kyle’s memoir (co-written with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice).

You may not be aware of the sniper’s role during a war. In an early scene (used in the trailer) we experience the incredibly stressful moment of decision that Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) faces as a mother and young child enter the street … are they a threat to the platoon or not? The decision means killing a woman and child or risking the death of many U.S. soldiers. If he is wrong, he faces a jury and military shame.  Most of us lack the capacity for such decision-making.  As a flashback to Kyle’s childhood shows, most of us are either sheep or wolves. Only a very few are sheepdogs with the aggressiveness to protect the flock. Chris Kyle: sheepdog.

The story takes us through Chris’ aimless young adult years on the cowboy circuit. He’s a tough guy who likes to drink and party with his friends. September 11 acts as a call to action, a call to service. SEAL training is shown and the point is made that Chris is the old man in the group, but he displays a quiet leadership trait. We then witness his flirting with a snippy Taya (Sienna Miller) at a bar counter as his SEAL buddies throw darts at each other’s bare backs (don’t try that at home, kids).  Soon enough Chris and Taya are married, and Chris is called to the front.

Back and forth we go through Chris Kyle’s four tours. His expertise in war is offset by his inability to adjust to family life. He has a compulsion to serve and to protect his fellow soldiers, but he is unable to fit into the suburban life of cell phones and grilled hamburgers. Not surprisingly, Taya struggles with his struggles. Bradley Cooper gets to be the legend, while Sienna Miller is the emotional mother who has seemingly lost her husband – not to death, but to an obsession to serve.

The film does little to explain why Chris Kyle is exponentially more productive than other snipers, and even less to explore his PTSD and mental anguish outside of the front. It’s Bradley Cooper’s acting that provides us what insight we do get, and he does a remarkable job capturing the hulking, uncommunicative giant who doesn’t really understand the “legend” title … he’s just doing his job and following his nature.

The tragic end is handled with grace by Eastwood, and it left my full-capacity movie theatre as quiet as a church during prayer. It’s possible to be a legend, but not a feel like a hero, and the movie makes no political statements regarding war or foreign policy. What it does show is that most of us are not sheepdogs.

watch the trailer:

 

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2 Responses to AMERICAN SNIPER (2014)

  1. John Raymond (Ray) Peterson says:

    Hi David
    I didn’t read your review till after I saw the movie (I already knew I wanted to see it – I’ll watch any Eastwood movie), but you have described and summed up pretty well my feelings about it.

    There was another scene worth a mention: The scene where a young boy picks up a grenade-launcher, barely able to hold it, and is about to shoot at marines or their hold out or something and Kyle agonizes about whether to shoot or not and the kid drops the weapon to the relief of Kyle (splendid acting there too).

    David, you hit the nail on the head with your note about what Cooper does so well conveying PTSD, and the sheepdog nature, a thing well nurtured by his dad. I like understated but outstanding depictions such as this movie provides us with. It’s classic Eastwood, the kind I last enjoyed with Unforgiven and Gran Torino.

    Two other things I’m glad you mentioned was how well Eastwood dealt with the tragic end of Kyle, leaving me with a lump in my throat, red eyes and…; and the audience’s reaction at that ending, as most were/are not aware of the hero Kyle was. The last time I saw an audience reaction like that was with Schindler’s List.

    Finally, on a personal note, I am outraged about remarks from a certain director’s comments about snipers; I will never mention his name again, ignoring him being the best way I can think of to express that outrage.

    • Hi Ray,
      The scene you mention is certainly one of those where Kyle’s decision-making is something to admire, and a prime example of why I have neither the courage nor make-up to handle his job … but I am very thankful that some do. As for that unnamed director, I am right there with you, however, the decision to skip his movies was one I made long ago. I admire the other side of any argument, but his agenda disrupts any meaningful debate.

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