He paints a terse, tense and graphic panorama of American soldiers in combat in Iraq, focusing on one soldier in particular, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a renowned marksman whose deadly accuracy accounted for 160 kills on the battlefield – the most of any American sniper.
It tackles with relentless intensity and the grim nature of man killing man.
American Sniper allows Eastwood to create a strong backstory about Kyle, a patriotic young man who did four tours of duty, and how his protracted engagement in this war affected him and his family. His return to civilian life between tours of duty was a stressful experience and his state of mind played heavily on his wife Taya’s psyche, portrayed by a barely recognisable Sienna Miller.
Clint Eastwood has fashioned no fewer than 34 films over a 44-year period and in that time, has honed his craft, making it seem as if the story tells itself. It is effortless filmmaking with the power to hold one’s attention throughout a draining ordeal.
Loosely based on the life of decorated Iraq War veteran Chris Kyle, the production is Eastwood’s best since his Oscar award-winning Million Dollar Baby. It also provides two-time nominee Bradley Cooper an opportunity to show his true grit, and is by far the most impressive role he has played to date. He has been nominated for another Oscar.
American Sniper’s strong point is, unlike many war films, the audience gets to care about the characters. They are well-developed entities and this enrichment adds to the tension and suspense.
The opening sequence is riveting; American tanks and soldiers enter the streets of a small town in Iraq. It’s March 2003 during the initial invasion. Kyle is positioned atop a building overlooking an abandoned street. As US forces approach, a woman and her son emerge from a building. Kyle recognises she has what appears to be a grenade, which she gives to the boy. Kyle must make a decision: shoot and risk killing an innocent child or hold his fire and risk a catastrophe. It’s not an easy decision and Eastwood makes us complicit in Kyle’s choice.
In order to make for better cinema, Eastwood plays around with the facts. According to Kyle’s autobiography, there was never a child involved in this encounter only a woman. It seems Eastwood has also doctored a number of other scenes for maximum impact, including having an Iraqi sniper, Mustafa (Sammy Sheik), out to kill Kyle who by now has a hefty price on his head.
Still, American Sniper remains a compelling slice of cinema and Bradley Cooper’s contribution is enormous. It succinctly recounts the lives of these men, their problems and the demons they must wrestle with both in country and after they return home.