Film Review: American Sniper

My husband, Jeff, read the book American Sniper several months ago. Since the news about the Clint Eastwood film was released, he has been itching to see it. Couple it with a few Oscar nominations, and I was on board.

Being from Texas, I remember when the procession for Chris Kyle’s funeral graced the news. At the time, I wasn’t sure who he was or what he had accomplished. I just knew that he was an American hero. In Texas, that’s all you had to know. But with his book being adapted for the silver screen, I was curious to know the rest of the story as described by Hollywood. 

We open with Chris Kyle played by Bradley Cooper in sniper position keeping watch over his fellow soldiers lining up a shot on a woman and child. It’s up to Chris to take the shot knowing that if he doesn’t, the woman and child will kill and injure several men with their grenade. Placed in an impossible position of playing God, the sound of the gunfire whisks us back in time to when Chris first learned how to shoot deer with his father in Odessa, Texas. Early in his life, he was a skilled marksman, which tells the audience more than anything that he was bred to be a gunman. However, it’s not until Chris sees the atrocities of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya that he decides to dedicate his life to America and defending her rights.

He joins the Navy SEALs and endures the months of painful training to become the best in the world. But we mustn’t forget the love interest in the film and how he met his wife, Taya, played by Sienna Miller. It seemed like a slow seduction beginning with holding her hair back as she vomited in a bar parking lot to a fairy tale wedding on a boat around the time of the September 11th attacks. I think, personally, Sienna Miller isn’t given enough credit for her role as a military wife. I could not imagine what these women go through while their men risk their lives whether they are stateside or overseas, so to watch the portrayal of Taya and her subtle changes as Chris takes tour after tour (four in total) in the Middle East really deserves some praise. She goes from a smiling girlfriend to blushing bride to war-torn psychological widow with grace and reality.

Each tour Chris takes puts more toll on his body and more importantly, his mind. What the film focuses on well is the effect of PTSD. We are never really told flat out that he suffers from it, but we, the audience, can see it in his facial ticks and reactions to simple situations like being followed by a regular Joe on a Texas highway to the sound of a drill in an auto shop.

There were a few things in the film that I felt were stretched only for the sake of the film. One scene has Chris run into his brother on a tarmac in Iraq. I found that to be rather convenient. He hasn’t seen his brother in months and they happen to be crossing paths at the same time on the same tarmac in the same airport. And then the dialogue that passes between the two of them felt so canned. Chris says something like, “I’m so proud of you,” to which Colton replies, “F*** this place.” We see on Chris’ face that he is shocked that his brother doesn’t harbor the same mentality toward the war as he does. But then, we never hear from his brother again. He disappears from the film to presumably have left the military, but I am not sure. It just felt like a random moment in the film that was placed only to remind us that he did have a brother.

Another point that made me scratch my head was the fact that Chris called his wife from the battlefield. Apparently, this is in the book, but I found it rather unbelievable even in that context especially for it to happen several times throughout the film. I appreciated keeping up with Taya, but the pain she is put through hearing bullets and explosions on the other side of the phone just seems cruel and selfish.

One more thing that I had an issue with, and then I’ll stop harping on the negative, was the fake babies used in the film. Usually, I have no problem with fake babies because more often than not, they are used in a long, far away shot unable to see any real detail on them. But in the case of this film, we were rather close up to these rubber dolls able to see the lack of movement in the arms and then coupled with sound effects of a baby crying to which the baby isn’t moving, it just felt ridiculous. I don’t have a lot of personal experience with babies, but generally, when they cry, they move.

In one shot, Miller is breastfeeding an obvious doll to which Cooper picks it up and manually moves its arm up and down to show life in this plastic baby. I couldn’t believe my eyes that the likes of Clint Eastwood would allow this on his set. Now, I’ve read that the baby actor didn’t show up and the back up was sick, but for a film that’s budget that was near $60 million, I would expect there to be another back up or a baby on call. But that just goes to show all the filmmakers that even a fake baby can get you an Oscar nomination.

The film has generated not only Oscar buzz but some anti-war/pro-gun controversy. Many critics or politicians have put the film down on being racist, anti-war, pro-gun, anti-Muslim, etc., and after reading some of the controversy, I have to agree that many people are missing the point. American Sniper is not a film about pro-war or anti-war. It is a biopic on the life of Chris Kyle based on the autobiography written by Kyle. One man does not represent the ideals of the entire nation, so for individuals to get up in arms over this film is misguided. The first amendment touts a freedom of speech, and that is what Chris Kyle has done. He wrote a book about his experience as an american sniper and that book has been adapted into a film. If Chris Kyle was not a real person and these experiences were generated out of thin air (like the atrocity of Brad Pitt’s film Fury), then I would understand the criticism. But it’s not. This was based on a real man’s life and his opinions toward the war.

I usually don’t form an opinion about politics, but I did want to say my piece about this film. That’s what this is: a film. And to its credit, a very well delivered one. I thought the acting on Cooper and Miller’s part was astounding, and I thought the script was also very well-written. Cooper has been credited by actual military personnel on his performance saying that he did not hold back, and I believe it.

I would be pleasantly surprised if Cooper took Best Actor for this film over Michael Keaton. I truly believe Cooper deserves it not speaking as an American but speaking as a film buff. He transported himself into the tough, gun-touting Texan delivering a performance worthy of the gold statue.

American Sniper is nominated for Best Actor (Cooper), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Picture.

4 out of 5 stars (I knocked half a star off for the fake baby.)

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