WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Before Al Qaeda exploded onto the scene, with a series of attacks on American interests, culminating with the 9/11 hijackings, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was a Texan rodeo cowboy, who enjoyed hunting in his spare time.
But feeling a bursting pride for his country and a burning need to protect it, he signs up to the military and before long, becomes a sniper for the Navy SEALs.
Over four tours of duty in Iraq, Kyle is the man who has everyone’s backs, picking off the enemy one-by-one from roof-tops. But when an Iraqi sniper, known as Mustafa (Sammy Sheik), starts to rival him for accuracy and kills, Kyle comes down from the roof and joins American soldiers on the ground, making it his mission to catch both Mustafa and the brutal Iraqi enforcer, known for obvious reasons as The Butcher (Mido Hamada).
But each time he returns to his wife (Sienna Miller) and children, Kyle is more and more distant emotionally, struggling to put the horrors of war behind him. With his military service over, the man billed as “the most lethal sniper in US history” has to try to overcome his post traumatic stress disorder, in order to save his family.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
American Sniper is likely to be received in differently within the US and beyond. To an international audience, even in a country allied with the US in Iraq, it could feel like an excessively patriotic and morally ambiguous film.
Director Clint Eastwood has made a film about an American hero, using his rifle to protect his fellow Americans on their mission – but with little discussion about what brought the mission about in the first place, it could feel like a film about a bunch of trigger-happy Americans who pop to the Middle East for a few months at a time to hunt Iraqis for sport and get the hump when the locals start firing back..
Of course, the film shows the obligatory footage, first of Al Qaeda’s attacks on American embassies in Africa and then the 9/11 follow-up on New York, but as was well reported and generally accepted at the time, the perpetrators were being harboured in Afghanistan, not Iraq.
In that sense, Eastwood starts from the position that the Iraq was justified and justifiable and with that in mind, young American men were doing their duty for the world in ridding Iraq of anti-democratic, destructive, Islamist evil – but he doesn’t try to make that argument to us, just expecting the audiences to be rooting for those who many might see as an occupying force of soldiers who fly half way around the world to kill Iraqis. Why wouldn’t they fight back? Why shouldn’t they fight back?.
Just to remind us that the Iraqis are indeed the bad guys, Eastwood shows them brutalising some locals, but even then, the locals being brutalised could be seen as traitors.
If you can put politics aside and begin at Eastwood’s starting point, in many ways, this film is to snipers what The Hurt Locker was to bomb disposal experts, with a beefed-up Bradley Cooper convincingly alternating between tough and vulnerable. Eastwood effectively highlights the stresses that post-traumatic-stress-disorder can put on a relationship that really doesn’t need any more pressure on it than it already has..
The many battle scenes are skilfully choreographed and it’s easy to lose track of precisely what’s going on and who’s doing what to whom, which quite possibly reflects what it’s like to be there for real. But the direction of the narrative itself is somewhat pedestrian; rodeo cowboy inspired to enlist, check – meets woman, check – woos her, check – marries her, check – gets her pregnant, check – goes to war, check – gets a call from his pregnant wife while he’s in the middle of a fierce gun-battle, check – returns home, psychologically scarred by the conflict, check…
Based on Kyle’s own autobiography of the same name, rather than historical records, many of the heroics have to be taken on trust, and Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the book is careful to avoid much of the controversy surrounding Kyle that followed his return from Iraq.
The director sticks very much to what drove Kyle to sign up, what happened in Iraq and how he tried to rebuild a normal life.
This is one of those rare “real-life” story where events kept moving, even as work begun on the film, but the team stuck to their guns and told the story they’d originally intended to tell. However, what happened couldn’t go unmentioned and referring to it with a throwaway caption at the end of the film leaves the audience with a completely different taste in the mouth to the one originally intended. Real-life or not, its inclusion and as such an afterthought, turns what had been a hugely positive emotional journey into a flat and tremendously depressing experience.