4 out of 5 stars
Chris Kyle's (Bradley Cooper) primary goal in life was to become a cowboy. He grew up in Texas, rode in rodeos and drank Lone Star beer. Through the training and mentoring of his father, he had also developed the gift of shooting a rifle. Besides his self-proclamation of being a cowboy and he was the protector of those that came into his sphere of influence. When America started to come under various terrorist attacks, the role of protector moved beyond the Texas borders and to the people of the United States. In his thirties, Chris decided to join the US Navy SEALs to develop his skill and to become a sniper. During his SEAL training he met and married Taya and looked ahead to their life together. During this time, the 911 attacks occurred, Kyle and the other members of the SEAL team are called for their first tour of duty in Iraq. The story of American Sniper goes through the actual events that occur during their four tours of duty in the war on terror. Throughout the challenges and victories of the war in Irag, the film travels through the Kyle's experiences with his fellow SEALs and his family. The impact of the numerous tours begin to expose the effects of post-traumatic stress on military personnel and their families. Chris has to confront the relationships of his fellow SEALS, the reality of the war and, once returned at home, how he manages to handle his life with his wife and children.
Chris Kyle's father, Wayne, had warned the American Sniper production team that if his son's story was disrespected, he would "unleash hell." Yet, he stated that he trusted Bradley Cooper (Silver Lining Playbook) and Clint Eastwood with Chris Kyle's journey. Cooper bought the rights to this story and had only intended on producing the film, but eventually found himself drawn into the role. He had to bulk up to represent Chris Kyle's physical characteristics and with the direction of Clint Eastwood managed to honour Wayne Kyle's wishes and brought a very human and respectful depiction of the SEAL legend. Being a biopic and with the announcement of Kyle's death in 2013, there is a predictability to the storyline, but Eastwood manages to keep Chris' story riveting and fresh. The storyline does not pull any punches with Kyle's life. Bradley Cooper manages to prove his acting abilities and depth in taking on a larger than life character. Cooper's performance portrays the SEAL as charismatic but susceptible to human frailties. Kyle was a legend as a sniper, but did not always make the best choices with his life or career, but the scenes do not damage his credibility as a hero. Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) is at her best in this role and manages to take on the role of Taya Kyle with a feminine strength that can truly be understood by military wives. The story will inevitably be compared to The Hurt Locker and Lone Survivor, but this film stands on its own as a worthwhile visual experience. Eastwood manages to keep the intensity of the war effort and the heart of Kyle's family life at the forefront of the story. It does not hold back on the graphic nature of wartime violence and language, but this reality is a necessity for the story's believability.
Throughout Chris Kyle's first three tours in Iraq, he has a spotter and friend named Winston or Goat (Kyle Gallner). In his military role he plays Kyle's conscience and one of the few individuals who confronts the spiritual side of the SEAL legend. Kyle was known to carry a New Testament with him on all missions. Prior to one of the key missions in the film, Winston asks Chris about his belief in God. In the discussion, the realities of this man's beliefs were that God is real, but not personal. The application of God and the Bible seemed to be interpreted as being merely superstition. Later in his time at home, he even has a discussion with a Veteran's psychologist about the 160 deaths attributed to the SEAL. Chris states that he has a clear conscience in meeting his maker. He wanted to be the sheep dog, his role was to protect others from the evil of this world and he accomplished this with his rifle. It does open the door to bigger discussions. In the end we all have to consider that we are all sheep and need a protector or saviour. Regardless of the ability to stay alive during the wartime efforts, death still comes to everyone. This film shows the need for us to protect the defenceless, but in the end the fragility of life comes down to that question, who is your God and what happens when you die?
Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film?
1. Is the God of the Bible a God of justice? (Psalm 37: 27-29, Romans 12:19)
2. Are we to watch out for the defenceless?(Psalm 82:3, Isaiah 1:17)
3. What happens when we die? (Ecclesiastes 12:7, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)