At the Movies with Alan Gekko: American Sniper “2014”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: War Drama/ Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Navid Negahban, Keir O’Donnell, Kyle Gallner, Sam Jaeger, Sammy Sheik, Mido Hamada, Eric Close, Eric Ladin, Ben Reed, Brian Hallisay, Tim Griffin, Chance Kelly/ Runtime: 134 minutes

I think it is safe to say that seldom has there been a movie, from the war genre or elsewhere, that has showcased so intricately and capably the duo of demolishing forces of combat upon a human being quite on the level of American Sniper, celebrated thespian and film helmer Clint Eastwood’s take on the legendary Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. Yet I think you should know that Sniper, more than anything else, is a riveting examination of the human condition. Indeed this is a movie which gives us an analysis of how war both on the inside and outside can remold not only a person, but their relationships with the people that matter the most all while the conflict takes a serious toll emotionally, psychologically, and yes even physically. Indeed even though the film is a loose telling of Kyle’s time in Iraq whilst also building up a few constructed sub-plots for him throughout, it nevertheless is still honest to the spiritual soul found in the book whilst also offering a direct, unapologetic, and quite uncomplicated examination at just how combat molded not only Kyle and his marriage, but also how it morphed and strengthened how he looked at life whilst also creating a divide between his devotion to his comrades overseas and to his family at home. A rift which resulted in the creation of an inner mortal combat of sorts which was more difficult for Kyle than anything he ever faced whilst in his perch atop some of the more deadly cities in one of the most dangerous countries in the modern world.

The plot is as follows: American Sniper tells the story of a guy by the name of Chris Kyle. A seemingly ordinary everyday guy except for the fact that not only is he a genuine man of honor, but he was also instructed both in how to shoot and how to back up himself as well as others from a very young age. Thus it should come as no surprise to you dear reader to learn that when Kyle hears about the horrific and ruthless attacks on the American embassies in both Kenya and Tanzania, he decides to suit up with the US Navy, and more particularly, do whatever it takes to become a SEAL. It is in training for that where he quickly astonishes his teachers with how just skilled of a shooter he is and, shortly after the horrific attack on 9/11 finds himself dispatched promptly to Iraq, but not before meeting and marrying a girl by the name of Taya whom he first encountered at a bar. Anyway, upon arriving in Iraq, Kyle is first sent over to Fallujah where he is assigned to conduct what are known as “overwatch” ops. These are ops where the person doing them looks out over the battlefield and quickly eliminates any antagonistic force which desires to hurt or kill the men on the ground; a op that Kyle quickly establishes a seemingly natural ability to handle with skill and ease. Yet upon returning home, Taya both gives birth to a son and becomes pregnant yet again. However, instead of keeping his perch on the sofa and enjoying time with his wife and kids, Kyle elects to re-enlist thus positioning his responsibility to his country and brothers-in-arms over that of his family back home in the rural Texas countryside. Thus while fighting a war on the outside, we soon see a conflict starting to grow on the inside, and it’s one that if Kyle isn’t careful could either lead to his salvation or to making a mistake which could see him and everyone he is trying to protect horrifically hurt or much, much worse…..

Now it should be noted that American Sniper isn’t meant to either hold war up on a pedestal or go all-in towards the chaos of modern warfare. Nor, for that matter is this an action flick or a rousing propaganda piece. Instead this is a slow-boil of a movie where we witness combat begin to erode a person from the inside. Indeed as Kyle succeeds in the field of combat and his very existence comes to be defined by no less than his time doing overwatch, we also soon see that as his devotion to saving lives in the field goes up, his life back home begins to suffer as he redeploys thus ensuring that his commitment to combat takes precedence over his commitment to his family. Indeed he only vacates his post when he feels that his presence on ground level would be more beneficial than when he is behind the scope. Not only that, but Kyle even manages to take this commitment to his brothers-in-arms seriously at home as well best showcased when we see him go to the gun range with some disabled vets. Indeed it this moment who manages to get to the heart and soul of who Kyle is, and that is a guy who is devoted to serving others anyway he can by doing it in a way that he comprehends and in an environment he is most at ease. This is also exemplified in another moment where a fellow vet that Kyle saved notices him only for Kyle to cordially downplay the idea that he is a “hero” due to being quite comfortable with the idea. Indeed throughout the duration of the movie we see Kyle continually struggle with all the facets of his identity: the man he was brought up as, the man that combat has molded, and the man his wife and family need him to be. Indeed whilst the physical toll of combat is most certainly obvious, it is the emotional cost that takes front and center in this movie and which is explored quite thoroughly with every minute spent either at home or in the combat zone.

Now it should also be noted that a film like American Sniper manages to stand as quite a contrast to a movie like Lone Survivor, in that even though both are quite draining from a pathos perspective, Lone Survivor deals with the physical pain that war can bring to the human body a bit more than the emotional toll that Sniper chooses to concentrate on. Also whilst Lone Survivor, also based on a book which was written by a former SEAL, does also find a more immersive purpose beyond the potent horror present in warfare, it is a much more engaging from an outward perspective than this film. Finally while Lone Survivor chooses to operate as a group of fireworks going off at specific moments, American Sniper is more like a time bomb ticking away with Kyle’s fate at the end of the timer, a fate that will be decided more in his soul than any physical locale on this planet. It is to that end then that this film chooses to work itself way through Kyle’s tale with quite the deliberate approach as it goes through specific character-molding moments from his youth, training to be a SEAL, and the beginning of his relationship with Taya. Yet it is the time that Kyle comes to spend in Iraq as well as his ever expanding senses of both purpose and duty which are the things which will not only come to define him, but also the priority list that is always running in the back of Kyle’s head and which slowly starts to show itself as the movie goes on. To that end, the movie does provide us with a few recurring arcs of a sort throughout its runtime which are meant to help define just who Kyle is. Indeed his duel with an enemy sniper known as Mustafa as well as his hunt for a high priority target known only as “The Butcher” manage to contribute a little bit more connective tissue to the action moments that isn’t exactly in the book because the book tells the story in a more linear fashion and is more a group of independent stories instead a few concentrated hunts. Thus by putting these in we are able to see not only Kyle’s level of commitment, but also how is challenged further and further on the inside as down the rabbit hole of combat he goes during the course of the film.

Now it should also be noted that helmer Clint Eastwood’s wonderful movie doesn’t start nor conclude with Chris Kyle. Indeed the movie is extraordinarily believable in nearly every way possible and manages to conjure up a truly genuine backdrop in every location be it Iraq or at home in Texas with Kyle and his family. As for the moments of combat within the film they are intricately precise to the extent that there is a terrific sense of the scale of war-torn chaos in the form of not only bullet-ridden buildings, but also the wear and tear on the uniforms and the weapons that manage to give this film a terrifically realistic vibe. The action beats also feel extraordinarily recreated, maybe not on the level of potency as other films in the war genre, but still managing to hold their own in regards to the requirements set up by the narrative. As for the work in the acting department, I think it is safe to say that lead actor Bradley Cooper manages to contribute a truly iconic turn as Kyle, and manages to create a fully believable character who is both molded by his experiences in life as well as defined by his dedication to his brothers-in-arms. Indeed Cooper’s turn in this is simplistic, from a superficial perspective, but still consists of an extraordinary depth of character that Cooper then manages to showcase in every manner that the movie needs be it physically, emotionally, or verbally. Indeed he manages to conjure up a three-dimensional guy who isn’t simply a recreation of what was written about him, but rather is the essence of the guy behind the words and portrays the character with a careful skill that is no more and no less than a genuine ode to an American hero.

All in all despite the overall critical praise that it received, it should be noted that this film was quite divisive when it came to various people on various sides of the political spectrum. This is because while there were some on the left who completely derided the film and everything it apparently “stood for”, there were numerous commentators with a conservative background who were prompt in their defense of the film and its main character. Yet through all the hullabaloo, audiences still came out in droves to see the film and the Oscars did see fit to award it several distinct nominations. However such things as who embraced the film and who went to watch it and didn’t are mere afterthoughts when compared side by side with the movie’s more immersive yet also intimate majesty in how it showcases the deeper effects of combat as seen through the perspective of the soul and less than in a physical sense. Indeed American Sniper truly is a magnificent piece of storytelling and an intriguing examination into how war can mold, define, and strengthen any ideals a person may stand for sometimes for the better and other times not so much. Thus I think it should be pointed out the legacy Kyle left should not be seen as one of a killer, but instead an aide as well a man who fought not to slaughter, but to save and be of service to others in a way that he knew best. To that end, it should be noted that this film is truly a fitting and immensely satisfactory ode to an American hero which should manage to thrive for years to come as one of the finest modern day war films made to date. On a scale of 1-5 I give American Sniper a solid 4 out of 5.