Review - American Sniper

American Sniper (2014), R, 132 minutes - I've said it here many times, but it probably bears repeating for those new to the blog: I grew up in a house of Clint Eastwood fans.  His numerous westerns are some of the earliest films I can remember watching on television with my parents.  As I've grown older and my love for movies has increased, so has my appreciation for his work both in front of and behind the camera.  I have also found myself becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Bradley Cooper over the last couple of years as he's strung together a handful of Oscar nominated performances.  In short, there was no doubt that American Sniper was a must see film for me.

American Sniper is based on the autobiography of United States Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in United States military history, having racked up 160 confirmed kills.  It's a fascinating story of a confident but humble man who was instilled with a strong set of values at a young age and decided that there was a higher calling for him other than hopping around the small town rodeo circuit.  He joined the Navy and was trained by the SEALs as a sniper.  He then went on to serve four tours in Iraq where he earned the nickname 'Legend' from his fellow troops, had a bounty placed on his head as a high value target by Iraqi insurgents, and was instrumental in tracking down and eliminating the insurgent sniper known as 'Mustafa', a former Olympic gold medal winning sharp shooter from Syria.

His military record alone is amazing, but the personal sacrifices made by Kyle and his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and their family during his service and re-acclimation to every day life Stateside is equally impactful. After being honorably discharged, Kyle had a hard time finding purpose back home until he began working with other veterans, taking them to the shooting range and giving them someone to talk to and relate to.

Cooper portrays Kyle, beefing up for the role, falling into a Texas accent, and giving an amazing, intense, determined, and emotional performance.  In my opinion, American Sniper is Eastwood's best directorial outing since 2008's Gran Torino.  It is an extremely intense film.  Given the subject matter this should go without saying, but there are a number of disturbing scenes depicting combat (beginning with the opening scene), so if that sort of thing bothers you this may not be the film for you.  Having said that, American Sniper is an excellent film, one of the best from 2014, and one that I would highly recommend to anyone.


- The fact that Chris Kyle was killed on the shooting range by a veteran he was trying to help is a terribly tragic and heartbreaking end to such an amazing story.  As the film ends, it transitions to actual footage of his memorial.  It is an extremely emotional way to end the film.  The screening I saw was packed and the crowd was absolutely silent through the end credits and as they filed out of the theater.  It was unorganized moment of silence paying tribute to an American military legend, thanking him for his service to our country.  It was a truly unique theater experience, and one that I doubt I will see again.

- There is one scene in particular that really stood out towards the end of the film.  Kyle is up on a roof top and takes out an insurgent with a rocket launcher.  A small boy runs over to the dead body and begins looking around suspiciously.  As a viewer you sit there and beg him not to pick up the launcher.  Kyle even begs the same to himself, knowing that he'll be forced to shoot a child.  The kid struggles with the launcher for a minute then finally gains control and points it in the direction of a U.S. military vehicle.  Kyle is about to pull the trigger when the kid drops the launcher and runs off in the other direction.  Kyle's reaction is one of absolute relief and may be the best bit of acting from Cooper in the entire film - which says a lot because the entire performance is excellent.

- American Sniper could almost be a companion piece to The Hurt Locker.  Both explore a troop's need and desire to do a job that they feel no one else is capable of performing at the same level and how that drive wears on them and their families emotionally.

- I have not yet read the book that this film was based upon - American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History by Chris Kyle, Jim DeFelice, and Scott McEwen - but I did pick up a copy this morning.


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