Eastwood has covered war to great effect before in Heartbreak Ridge, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. But this is the first time he’s so deeply examined the tragic physical, emotional and psychological toll war takes on both the men and women who fight and their families back home.
As Kyle, Bradley Cooper has never been better. Bulked up almost beyond recognition, with a pitch-perfect Texas drawl, he exudes the confidence and intensity of a sharp-shooter unaccustomed to missing his target. That is, until he’s tasked with shooting a small Iraqi boy who is forced by his mother to smuggle a grenade into a column of advancing Marines.
Cooper lends his character layers of depth and vulnerability beyond the bravado and machismo. Each time Kyle returns home to his wife (Sienna Miller) and child, he’s more haunted by the ghosts of the men he couldn’t save, and more determined to kill the Iraqi sniper who becomes his mortal enemy.
Because of the “lone wolf” nature of the sniper’s occupation, this feels less like a traditional war movie than a modern-day version of Clint’s classic gunslinger films. Kyle is steely-eyed and poker-faced, with his actions on the battlefield rarely betraying the turgid emotions roiling within. But at home he’s clearly a broken man increasingly afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For better or worse, Eastwood avoids any sort of rah-rah American patriotism and the self-mythologizing of Kyle’s book (his estate recently lost a $1.8 million defamation lawsuit to Jesse Ventura, after Kyle boasted about beating up the former Minnesota governor in a bar fight).
The straightforward direction of American Sniper isn’t likely to win Eastwood any more Oscars, but Cooper deserves another nomination for his harrowing turn. The heartbreaking coda, in which Kyle is murdered by a fellow vet at a shooting range, ends the film on a potent note. –Bret Love
- RATING: R (for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references)
- GENRE: Drama , Action & Adventure
- DIRECTED BY: Clint Eastwood
WRITTEN BY: Jason Hall
MAIN CAST: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Jake McDorman