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American Sniper

American Sniper

Released 16 January 2015
Director Clint Eastwood

Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Kevin Lacz, Navid Negahban, Keir O'Donnell
Writer(s) Jason Hall

Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Andrew Lazar, Robert Lorenz, Peter Morgan
Origin United States
Running Time 132 minutes
Genre Action, biography, drama
Rating 15A

Hit and miss.

American Sniper is the true story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle - a Texan rodeo rider, fond of speaking with his fists, who found his calling when he joined the military. Through his service in Iraq, Kyle became the most prolific sniper in American military history and a hero to the soldiers he served alongside. Like many veterans, his time in combat took its toll on family life with wife Taya (Sienna Miller in a thankless role), as he struggled to settle back into normal life as a husband and father. The film follows him from childhood, through his military career and out the other end.

If I had seen Clint Eastwood’s film on any other day my experience would perhaps have been different. The film undoubtedly shows the director at his best - this is a lean, effective piece of filmmaking with a broodingly intense central performance from a beefed-up Bradley Cooper. Sometimes though, timing is everything. Watching troops gunning for Iraqi insurgents while in the real world the suspects behind the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris made their last stand, was an experience that made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Although American Sniper is a detailed portrait of a man motivated by patriotism and loyalty to his fellow soldier, the context of the conflict and the enemies on the other end of Kyle’s gun barrel are painted with troublingly broad brushstrokes.

To give his tours of Iraq some narrative urgency, Kyle is set up in opposition with two specific Iraqi foes. One of them is an enforcer known as The Butcher, shown committing horrifically violent acts. The other is a skilled sniper (Mustafa), reputedly an Olympic medal winner. Curiously, it is the latter who is given the full-on villain treatment despite the fact that arguably both Kyle and Mustafa are military men "doing their job." Their rivalry, if fully explored, could have been compelling but instead Eastwood layers on the ominous music whenever Mustafa is in shot, showing him leaping between buildings like a superhuman villain. This kind of cliche demonisation is beneath a filmmaker like Eastwood and for me, it overshadows the more successful aspects of a film which excels in bringing the atmosphere of battle to the screen.

All in all American Sniper may be a pinpoint accurate look at one man in a battle zone but the context and the characters that surround him are a little too blurred to make the film a satisfying experience as a whole.

- Linda O’Brien