Given today’s political climate, the sharks have been in the water, circling Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” for months, ready to strike. It’s as if people knew that Eastwood taking on Chris Kyle’s book about his experience during the Iraq War would amount to a stamp of approval for the war via this movie.
Everyone with those types of preconceived notions is going to be very upset. Director Eastwood, writer Jason Hall, and producer/star Bradley Cooper have created a movie that is extremely anti-war. Since Eastwood is a conservative, this will no doubt confuse those people ready to hate him and his unbelievably well-crafted, intense, and highly emotional movie, which may be the best of the year.
The opening scene prepares you for the stress-inducing situations that are to follow. Chris (Cooper) is perched on a rooftop, peering through the scope on his rifle at an Iraqi woman that is forcing her child to attack an American convoy. When Chris sees the woman hand the child a mortar round, he is forced to make a decision that will no doubt haunt him for the rest of his life.
Once that disturbing event is over, “American Sniper” resets and picks up Chris’ story as he abandons his Texan dreams of becoming a rodeo cowboy. Chris joins the Marines with the goal of becoming a Navy Seal and that training is shown in painstaking, brutal detail.
Shortly after completing his training, Chris meets Taya (Sienna Miller). Their initial drunken meeting at a bar is quite funny and soon thereafter, they are married. Sadly, their newlywed period is cut short as Chris is sent to Iraq shortly after September 11th, 2001.
Since movies enjoy metaphors, the heftiest one in “American Sniper” is laid out by Chris’ father. His father explains there are three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Not only does this stick with Chris his entire life, it is the moment in the movie that attempts to justify war and conflict.
That belief stays with Chris as he fights to protect as many American soldiers with his sniper rifle that he can during his four tours of Iraq. He recognizes the deeply rooted evil they are fighting in Iraq and he embraces his role of sheepdog.
The scenes featuring Chris in action as that hidden protector are the finest action moments in a movie this year. Eastwood and his cinematographer, Tom Stern, throw the audience into the battle, yet never losing geography or confusing the eye. The large, city-wide battle that takes place during a sandstorm is one of the finest things that Eastwood has ever directed.
In between tours, Chris comes home, but can’t get a grip on his life with with Taya. The dialogue is obvious (“when you’re here, you’re not here”), but what else would these two people that spend their lives half a world apart say to each other? Chris never speaks of the things he’s done, which only drives the wedge further between them.
Cooper disappears into every single moment, whether he’s in or out of country, with such ease and commitment that his portrayal of Chris Kyle becomes an acting clinic. His transformation via Texas drawl and beefed up physique only adds to Cooper’s dominating presence. This is his “Raging Bull” performance and could be looked back at in time as one of the best film performances of the last twenty years.
Like most people, regardless of their political leanings, “American Sniper” is anti-war. This movie does not take enjoyment or entertainment value from seeing Chris Kyle take a life. However, it acknowledges that war is a necessary evil, a product of taking a stand against evil.
“American Sniper” is the most political movie that Clint Eastwood has ever made and, unless you walk into the theater hell bent on putting a liberal or conservative spin on it, you should see both perceived political sides of the ugliness of war. In a way, it seems like Eastwood has taken the words and life of Chris Kyle and used them in an attempt to bring people together, see that the world is not a perfect place, and recognize how much American soldiers sacrifice in an effort to protect those that cannot protect themselves.
Those that know the events of Chris Kyle’s life should know how “American Sniper” is going to end. The finale is not exploitative. It isn’t heavy handed. It simply shows the father and husband that Chris Kyle became after experiencing a world that could have destroyed him.
“American Sniper” should not be missed. This is one of the finest movies released this year and will be held in the rarified air as one of the finest depictions of war ever put on film. This is Clint Eastwood’s true masterpiece.
Own “American Sniper” on Blu-rayÔ Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD on May 19th from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.