American Sniper is directed by Clint Eastwood and is the real life story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a US Navy SEALS officer who serves his country for 4 tours in Iraq and later becomes one of the most lethal snipers in American history with over 160 confirmed kills. However during his endeavours to battle terror in Iraq, he finds himself struggling to become a good father and husband back at home and facing difficulties in leaving the war behind.
I understand that there is a lot of political controversy surrounding this movie, namely by left leaning audiences who questioned the film’s portrayal of the war in Iraq and Chris Kyle’s’ true intentions behind his actions. However I’m not going to let this controversy spill into this review. American Sniper is going to be judged purely on its technical and storytelling aspects. So how does this movie fair? Honestly, not too bad. I thought of American Sniper as a sort of crossover between Hurt Locker and The Deer Hunter. The film is similiar to Hurt Locker because it deals with a military position that is overlooked (in the case of Hurt Locker it was the bomb disposal unit but here it is a long range sniper). American Sniper also draws a lot of inspiration from The Deer Hunter in that it touches on the lasting psychological effects that soldiers face after returning home from war. These two aspects of the movie provide for rich, entertaining content whilst making a clear and decisive statement about the nature of war.
I feel in particular that the psychological effects of war were well explored throughout the entire runtime. We really get a sense of how Kyle’s demeanor changed when he came back from his tours. We see his interactions with his family become more muted: he was emotionally isolated. In addition, he was in a constant state of terror where even the everyday noise of a car horn launched him into a state of panic and raw aggression because he was terrified that what he saw in Iraq would spill into his homeland. I also liked the majority war sequences that this film had to offer. They were mostly all shot from the perspective of a sniper, which many would expect to be “less intense” than those from the perspective of a ground soldier, but were full of suspense and tension. Bradley Cooper’s performance is also something to commend. His physical transformation is as well realized as the emotional transformation he takes in his performance.
However American Sniper is far from perfect. For one, Chris Kyle’s’ motivations for joining the SEALS were loosely set up. His motivation is basically him viewing two short clips on television. As traumatic as these clips were, the film could have gotten into greater lengths to explore the real reasons why he decided to join the army. Secondly, the training sequences that Chris goes through to become a SEAL were short and unmemorable. The film could have drawn inspiration from classics such as Full Metal Jacket on how to improve the quality and memorabilia of these sort of sequences. Lastly, the final 20 or so minutes are utterly forgettable. I was very zoned out during these final moments because there was nothing at play here. There was a final shootout sequence but that was shot in a CGI sandstorm where it was impossible to distinguish soldier from terrorist.
Overall by judging this movie on its technical and storytelling merits alone, I have concluded that American Sniper explores the detrimental psychological effects of war well and features an excellent lead performance from Bradley Cooper coupled with some mostly well executed war sequences. On the flip side, I was disappointed to see the lack of motivation set up for Chris Kyle’s pursuits to join the army as well as the blandness of the training montages where Chris learns to become a Navy SEAL and the final 20 minutes, which features a horribly executed CGI sandstorm shootout sequence.