Bradley Cooper, as an actor, has proved a formidable talent in recent years, pushing himself to tackle a wide spectrum of roles in movies like “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle,” and “The Place Beyond the Pines.”
Currently taking the Broadway stage to critical acclaim as John Merrick in “The Elephant Man,” Cooper clearly isn’t one to shy away from a challenge, which brings us to his latest box office release (which he also helped produce), “American Sniper.” The actor has referred to the film as a character study of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in U.S. history, and in that regard, he succeeds in fully inhabiting the role of the man. Directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall, the film also stars Sienna Miller as Kyle’s wife Taya Renae Kyle, as well as Sam Jaeger, Cory Hardrict, and Jake McDorman in supporting roles.
Based on Chris Kyle’s 2012 autobiography by the same name, Eastwood’s film sets out to capture the breadth of the Texan rodeo cowboy-turned-Navy Seal’s experiences that led him to Iraq and back again for four tours of duty. It’s an ambitious undertaking, especially given the complexity of U.S.-Middle East relations, and the murky political waters of the Iraq War. Those involved in the project have insisted that “American Sniper” is not a political film, but it’d be pretty darn difficult to make a film with the Iraq War as its backdrop without getting a little political, or at least ruffling a few feathers. As a character study, though, Jason Hall’s script provides an accessible framework for getting to know the man who would be “Legend”—his upbringing, family background, and formative relationships with both his father and brother.
In the film’s opening shot, we meet a tightly wound Kyle on the verge of making his first kill in Iraq, the stakes of his split-second decision raised by the fact that the target in questions happens to be a young boy and mother attempting to launch an explosive at a convoy of U.S. soldiers. Eastwood rolls the camera right up to the moment Kyle pulls the trigger and then cuts sharply, taking us back to his Texan childhood and early adulthood in a series of scenes leading up to his decision to enlist in 1999, subsequent training as a Navy Seal, and finally, back to that moment of reckoning, the first kill. This technique works well enough to provide necessary expository information on what made the man, and Cooper no doubt provides a compelling portrayal of Kyle, but it doesn’t necessarily get to the root of how Kyle—and other soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress—ticks. Any story dealing with the psychological effects of regularly confronting death, brutal violence, and a dehumanizing of the enemy merits a lot of digging, and in this regard, we are left with more questions than answers. What the film does succeed in is turning public attention to an oft-neglected topic: The mental well being of today’s veterans, and what it can mean to adjust to contemporary home life in the U.S. after long stints fighting overseas.
“American Sniper” is now playing.