‘American Sniper’ hits the target, dead center

Bradley Cooper as CPO Chris Kyle in 'American Sniper'
Bradley Cooper as CPO Chris Kyle in ‘American Sniper’

The movie American Sniper is based on Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle’s bestselling autobiography with the title American Sniper:  The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U. S. History.  This book spent 37 weeks on the NY Times Best Seller list.

Bradley Cooper portrays CPO Kyle, who was born in Texas.  His father Wayne (Ben Reed) taught him to hunt and shoot at an early age.  Young Chris didn’t dream about becoming a war hero, he wanted to become a professional cowboy.  When he sees the television footage of the 1998 bombings of the U. S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, he enlists in the Navy.  He becomes a SEAL and goes through BUD/s (considered by many to be one of the most difficult training courses in the military).

Sienna Miller and Bradley Cooper as Taya and Chris Kyle in 'American Sniper'
Sienna Miller and Bradley Cooper as Taya and Chris Kyle in ‘American Sniper’

Meanwhile he meets and marries Taya (Sienna Miller) and he deploys to Iraq when the U. S. invades there, following the 9/11 attacks.  His first two kills as a sniper would test the internal ethics of any human being, but he makes them.  Soon he acquires fame among his comrades and becomes known as “Legend.”

The film follows CPO Kyle through all four of his tours in Iraq and it is clear that each is more difficult than the one before.  He has some specific targets he definitely wants to get before “his” war ends.  One of these is a man known as “The Butcher” (Mido Hamada) whose cruelty in dispensing retribution to the locals who help the Americans goes beyond gruesome.  Another is “Mustafa” (Sammy Sheik), a Syrian who is a sniper for the insurgents.  He is an outstanding sniper and was a good enough shot to qualify for and compete in a Summer Olympic Games.

Bradley Cooper as CPO Kyle flying home with coffins of comrades in 'American Sniper'
Bradley Cooper as CPO Kyle flying home with coffins of comrades in ‘American Sniper’

Just as each of his four tours grew more and more difficult, so did the time at home between them.  Clearly suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but refusing to recognize or admit he is having problems, the relationship between CPO Kyle and Taya isn’t just strained.  It very nearly falls apart.

This is an outstanding achievement in film, but it is definitely not perfect.  The action sequences are well done and riveting, but some of the scenes in Iraq drag a bit.  There is some poetic license taken with the facts of CPO Kyle’s life, both by rewrite and omission, but nothing that harms the story we’re viewing.  This is not a documentary film and its entertainment value is considerable.  What some misinterpret as jingoism is merely an accurate depiction of just how much Chris Kyle loved his country.

I’m amazed that Clint Eastwood, at the age of 84 is still able to make movies that compare favorably to his memorable masterpieces like Letters from Iwo Jima, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven.  But he is and I hope he keeps making films.   I could borrow the number of 43 from 2013’s Movie 43 and use that number of superlatives to describe the performance of Bradley Cooper, but I won’t.  He is as good or better here as he was in both Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.  He is definitely in the hunt for the Best Actor Oscar and the movie itself may bring home a Best Picture award.  You should definitely give American Sniper a shot.

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