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Thursday, January 15, 2015

American Sniper Review: A Tragic, Poignant Must-See

Does American Sniper hit all of its targets? Read on to find out.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, we learn about the true cost of freedom in the post-9/11 age, forever altering the lives of the men and women who've volunteered for armed service and tainting them with images of brutality that cannot be undone. For Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), his world changes forever when he volunteers for the Navy SEALs after a vicious attack on US embassies in 1999. As his natural skill as a sniper is unleashed, his street cred among the men rises to nearly god-like status, granting him the name "Legend" with his 160 confirmed kills. But his new wife Taya (Sienna Miller) struggles to maintain her hold on Chris' reality, which becomes more and more distorted as his sniper count rises. Pitted against true evil in the prolific sniper Mustafa and the terrorist known simply as The Butcher, Chris must balance the horrors he must unleash without losing who he is.

Eastwood, now 84, has honestly produced a couple of recent duds, including Hereafter, J. Edgar and Jersey Boys. Not here: American Sniper is as gritty and unforgiving as they come, led by Eastwood's steady hand and his wide sweeping shots of Kabul as terrorists descend on Chris' location. But these action sequences aren't the only thing that make the film work: as Chris returns home, he's increasingly haunted by the world he left behind, as countless comrades die at the hand of the expert Mustafa, forcing the American to constantly return to Afghanistan to hunt him. The last act reminded me of the excellent Enemy of the Gates, another war film that gets left behind but deserves everyone's attention; but Eastwood ups the ante by skipping the patriotic music in exchange for eerie silence as Chris adjusts his sights and wrestles with the enormous gift he's been granted.

But those scenes of Chris attempting to adjust at home are also worth mentioning. It's clear that we have a PTSD problem among our troops, and I can't blame them for having trouble adjusting back to civilized life. It's this paradox that ultimately led to Kyle's death in 2013 from another Marine at a local shooting range. In these scenes, it's both Cooper and Miller who blend perfectly together: Kyle the stoic assassin with a pulse of 170/110 and the impassioned Taya who tries desperately to keep him from falling off the edge of sanity. We feel powerless to help this dysfunction, but it makes for excellent theater.

And yet, the controversy surrounding Kyle's real-life exploits after his four tours is almost as interesting. Should we consider this a work of Historical Fiction? No, but audiences should know that Eastwood's treatment of the most lethal sniper in US military history is not complete. Ultimately, it's a film that will at the least encourage you to learn more about Kyle and the horrors which war inevitably brings to our souls. Whether its lack of a complete story will affect its Oscar chances is beyond us to affect, so it's highly suggested that you decide its validity for yourself.

Regardless of the controversy behind Kyle's personality that Eastwood leaves out, American Sniper is poignant, riveting, and thoroughly inexplicable in its shocking end. If this isn't a wake-up call to our nation about taking care of these brave warriors we send into death's grasp, I can't imagine what would.

American Sniper is Rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references and has a runtime of 132 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


Thomas Watson January 15, 2015 at 7:13 PM  

“American Sniper” is skillfully made but it’s hardly ever remarkable.

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