Silence and noise. Both are used in tremendously effective and emotional ways in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper. The noise of war which we’ve heard again and again in movies. Yet the silence of it too. The quiet thoughts and solemnity of its central character with his finger on the trigger having to make snap judgments most of us couldn’t fathom. The noise of everyday life and your children playing and wife speaking to you. Yet those noises are silenced by other noises. The sound of war whose echoes never fully leave the mind of Chris Kyle.
American Sniper is the true life tale of the Navy Seal credited with having the most kills in our 21st century Middle East conflict. Bradley Cooper is Chris, who was raised with a sense of duty with an emphasis on protecting others. When the United States comes under attack, Chris’s protective instincts find their calling. He eventually does four tours overseas and becomes a near mythic figure for his abilities behind a rifle.
His incredible talents in his military life trump his capacity to manage a family life. In between tours, he has trouble adjusting to normal life with his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and his kids. Chris is distant. His mind is with his fellow soldiers. Even after saving so many of them, Chris doesn’t think in those terms. When he’s back in Texas, there is the fact that Chris can’t save them. Going home to him does not hold the same meaning it would to many. Home is on top of a roof in Iraq watching over his men.
The picture has an understated tone that we’ve come to anticipate from director Eastwood. One looking for deep political overtones won’t find them. While we may know Clint’s politics, they’re not on display here. This is a character study and its matter of factness extends to the war scenes. The decisions Chris must face include whether to kill women and children. There are times here when it’s almost too intense to watch, but it’s a necessity to understand Chris’s psyche.
Bradley Cooper is a revelation here. First known as a comedic actor, this and Silver Linings Playbook especially have shown him to be one of the most powerful dramatic actors on screen. His physical transformation and southern accent are remarkable, but it wouldn’t mean much without his emotional wallop of an acting job. There are subtleties in his take on Chris and his responses to those praising his legendary prowess on the battlefield that are moving and sometimes devastating. As is his realization that his time in foreign countries should end.
Military service and dedication to his comrades doesn’t end with active duty for Chris. His final act in this world involves helping another soldier. It ends in a horrifically tragic way. Chris wouldn’t have had it any other way. Helping other soldiers is what he does and is his duty.
**** (out of four)