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Despite its box office success, American Sniper’s storyline delivers a mixed message.

 

If there was a film that has risen to become the must see picture of 2014 in the public’s eye, it would undoubtedly be American Sniper. With a phenomenal ad campaign highlighting the performance of its lead actor, the war film depicting America’s most lethal sharpshooter has produced more Twitter and Facebook fights than it has racked in dollars – over 300 million at this point. As divisive the portrayal of Chris Kyle has echoed in our society lately, there is little talk of the quality of the film in our 24/7 communication age. Perhaps that is due to Eastwood, who was not sure what he wanted his film to be – an anti-war film or a homage to the men and women in service.

 
One of the stand out moments from the TV spots leading up to the release of American Sniper was when Bradley Cooper’s character is looking through his scope at a child holding an explosive. We assume the film would show Chris Kyle as a tortured man, constantly dealing with the unenviable task of taking human lives to protect his brothers in arms. However, despite this scene – which turns out to be Kyle’s first confirmed kill – there is little in Cooper’s performance or the script to suggest this was the case. The man that develops the moniker, “The Legend,” is too sure his acts are righteous and, in turn, comes off as defiant to anybody outside of his military circle. Eastwood leaves the camera on Cooper many times as if he is hoping for his actor to break, but Cooper is superb at taking direction, much like the man he plays was taking orders.

 
However, there are moments of pain for Kyle in American Sniper, even if he doesn’t know it. “You think this war isn’t changing you, but it is!” his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), says as she sees her husband turn into a one dimensional ghost over the years. Based on his mannerisms and rock-solid sheath he’s developed around him, it doesn’t seem like Kyle is bothered by it much. The only moment he relinquishes his role as a Navy SEAL is when he feels he’s done everything he can. If this was Eastwood’s way of creating an anti-war film, then Kyle’s relationship with his family would have played a larger part. Instead, Eastwood focuses on the elite soldiers and the family they have created amongst themselves. It is done quite well, but the messages are mixed.

 

 

Sniper
The directing and acting in American Sniper carry the film as the story jaggedly goes back and forth between the Kyle family, that status of the war, and the battle between The Legend and his nemesis – an Iraqi sniper. The narrative leaves much to be desired, especially in the way it depicts Kyle’s death – he was murdered by a troubled ex-marine he was trying to help. While Eastwood hasn’t directed anything this focused since Letters from Iwo Jima, it is hard to get a sense of Chris Kyle, even after the long feeling 132 minutes.

 
Cooper has done wonders with a role that is ultimately one-dimensional and he deserves every applause and accolade he receives. However, if someone viewing this film is convinced of the man Chris Kyle was – one way or the other – then they are wrong. His focus was too narrowed and his personality so dull in this film that one would have thought Eastwood would have waited for a better adaptation.

About The Author

Nate Davis

Nate Davis is the managing editor for Filmtakeout. Along with overseeing the content that gets posted on the site, Nate contributes a weekly column and review. Nate graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in Journalism and Cinema. He worked for the University of Iowa's Center for Media Production as an intern, production assistant and writer. Nate also writes for a website devoted to covering soccer, and has a blog that includes all his work.