The Oscar nominations arrived earlier this week and Bradley Cooper received a well-deserved nod for his portrayal of sharp-shooting sniper Chris Kyle in the new Clint Eastwood film American Sniper, which opens today at area theaters. The film also received a nomination for Best Picture. Cooper’s nomination was deserved; the film’s wasn’t. While the movie provides a compelling account of Chris’ experiences in Iraq, it also comes off as a rather patriotic defense of U.S. military might and lacks the kind of nuance that would make it a great war film.
Based on Chris Kyle's memoir American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, the movie starts with Chris’ childhood. We learn that his father imparted a bit of wisdom that stuck with Chris — namely that he should be a sheepdog who protects others rather than a sheep or wolf. While Chris initially becomes a rodeo cowboy, he has a change of heart when he sees footage of terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in the Middle East. He enlists in the military and trains to be a Navy SEAL. His superiors instantly recognize that he can shoot a rifle with incredible precision and when he arrives in the Middle East, his sniper skills are put to the test as he often has to take out enemy soldiers from a rooftop to ensure the safety of U.S. military personnel.
Chris embraces his role with a real enthusiasm and regularly refers to enemy soldiers as “savages.” He’s one tough dude and the other U.S. soldiers christen him “Legend.” The insurgents even take out a bounty on his head. He goes home after his first tour but has trouble adjusting to life with his pregnant wife Taya (Sienna Miller). And since the unrest in the Middle East continues, he goes back for three more tours, each one more intense than the previous one. The final showdown pits Chris against his counterpart, an Iraqi sniper who’s made life hell for the U.S. military.
Cooper, who beefed up for the role, delivers a terrific performance at the steely shooter. He shows the man’s subtle evolution into a dedicated American soldier who’s committed to his fellow soldiers but still has a conscience about killing. Too often, however, the film doesn’t show just how complex the situation in the Middle East really is and leaves out key details from the life of the real Chris Kyle (he reportedly referred to all the killing he did as “fun”) in order to depict him as a hero.