‘American Sniper’ has enjoyed unrivalled success at the box office since its release at the end of 2014, becoming the most successful war film of all time, stealing the crown which belonged to ‘Saving Private Ryan’ for around 17 years. Nevertheless, director Clint Eastwood has created a film which has divided audiences around the world, sparking controversy for the prominent propaganda messages it contains. Despite carrying a very strong, pro-USA theme throughout, hailing America as the greatest country on Earth, ‘American Sniper’ undeniably promotes an anti-war message which should be universally absorbed and celebrated. Ignoring the controversy, let’s focus on the important stuff and acknowledge that Eastwood has produced a truly thrilling, intense film which kept me literally on the edge of my seat, dying for the bathroom but unable to leave the cinema.
Based on true events, ‘American Sniper’ tells the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the most deadly sniper in American history, with 160 confirmed kills. Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) begins as a ranch hand, a patriotic ‘cowboy’ who feels he has more to give to his country and offers himself to the Navy and the fight against terror. Shortly after his acceptance into the force, Kyle meets Taya (Sienna Miller) and the two quickly fall in love and marry, only to be instantly separated as Kyle is deployed to Iraq to fight Al-Qaeda. We follow Chris Kyle through four gruelling tours of duty in Iraq, witnessing the horrors of war depicted in a dark and graphic manner. ‘American Sniper’ is more than just a war movie though, because whilst it does highlight the immense chaos and damage the war causes on the battlefield, more attention is paid to the aftermath of such experiences, the way fighting the war affects Chris Kyle and his family. Kyle loses all focus as the war dominates so much of his life, abandoning his family whilst he’s away but also neglecting them when he returns home each time. The harrowing events of each tour haunt Kyle and inflicts him with severe post-traumatic stress, meaning that the husband and father is always ‘absent’ whether it be physically, or mentally.
On the latter of the tours, Kyle and his team are in pursuit of a deadly Taliban sniper who has killed or injured many of their comrades, something which Kyle becomes particularly obsessed with. There is a real cathartic moment as Kyle finally manages to take out the sniper but this is soon followed by a hectic escape scene which forms arguably the most powerful scene of the whole film. As Kyle and his men look to escape, they encounter a vicious sandstorm which dominates the shot so much that after a couple of minutes, we the audience can barely see a thing apart from dust and sand. In my opinion, this is one of the best scenes I have ever witnessed in a film, I didn’t know what was going on and I was truly scared, I had a deep gutted feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I realised that this is what filmmaking is all about. Eastwood manages to strike a balance between heavy, action scenes of violence and gunfire, and then has you sitting, waiting with baited breath as Chris Kyle steadies himself, ready to pull the trigger on another unsuspecting enemy. There is such a raw intensity throughout ‘American Sniper’, both on and off the battlefield, which makes this a genuine masterpiece from Eastwood. Indeed, the real issues only begin for Chris Kyle when he is home, especially after he quits the Navy, eventually culminating in his tragic death.
Bradley Cooper is outstanding as Chris Kyle. As a soldier, I’m half inclined to say it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. You know, the tough guy, the camaraderie, the action hero. It is when conveying the pressures of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), in moments of fragility and vulnerability, where Cooper really excels himself, giving a performance which is so believable and intensely terrifying. Will he win an Oscar for the role? Probably not, but this is without a doubt his best performance to date, this proves that Bradley Cooper is as versatile and talented an actor as anyone else out there right now. Sienna Miller too, is understatedly fantastic as his emotional and suffering wife Taya, who must remain strong and patient and support her husband through his troubles. Miller breathes an uplifting and positive spirit into the tone of the film and certainly brings more to the role than I expected.
The way ‘American Sniper’ portrays graphic violence and death has been condemned for its ‘glorification’ of the USA’s occupation of Iraq during the war. I have to challenge this, I firmly believe the key objective of this film is to tell the story of one average man, who did his job very effectively and just wanted to help his friends and his country. It wasn’t Chris Kyle who chose to start the war after all. Eastwood subjects us to close up, detailed shots of death and attacks, and credit to the man for not censoring or pandering to criticism. Because the intense graphic violence in ‘American Sniper’ only serves to add to the realism and grit which makes this film an exceptional piece of cinema history.
DIRECTOR: CLINT EASTWOOD
STARRING: BRADLEY COOPER, SIENNA MILLER