American Sniper
dir Clint Eastwood
scr Jason Hall
prd Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Peter Morgan, Andrew Lazar, Robert Lorenz
with Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Kevin Lacz, Navid Negahban, Keir O'Donnell, Cole Konis, Luke Sunshine, Mido Hamada, Sammy Sheik
release US 25.Dec.14, UK 16.Jan.15
14/US Warner 2h14
American Sniper
Eye on the prize: Cooper

miller eastwood
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
American Sniper With Eastwood's usual understated direction and Cooper's eerie physical transformation into a thick-necked Texan marksman, this film grabs hold of the audience with unexpected force. It then relentlessly applies pressure throughout the true story of the Navy Seal sniper who served four tours in Iraq and holds the record for the most official kills.

Raised in a religious home, Chris Kyle (Konis, then Cooper) has a sense of encroaching evil and the need to aggressively confront it. Then the 9/11 attacks spark him to enlist in the Navy, where he emerges as an gifted sharp-shooter. He also woos hot local girl Taya (Miller). In Iraq, his eagle-eye and moral compass are first tested by a woman and child who may be carrying a bomb. Working from a distance, he longs to get in the thick of the action, and takes it personally when a adept enemy sniper challenges him.

The film is tightly told from Kyle's perspective, and Cooper's beefy performance digs deep into the psychological aspects of this kind of job. Eastwood and screenwriter Hall aren't interested in debating whether Kyle's job or the war itself are right or wrong, instead concentrating on how this experience profoundly affects this man. Yes, Kyle has the most haunting kind of post-traumatic stress. And Cooper plays him with a terrific mix of bravado and steeliness, undercut by split-seconds of doubt.

Eastwood is much more comfortable when orchestrating a tense stand-off or a series of harrowing home-invasions in the dusty streets of Fallujah or Sadr City. The scenes back home with Taya feel rather cursory, included to give the audience a break from all the shooting and to drop in the expected comments ("If you think this war isn't changing you, you're wrong"). Fortunately, Miller makes the most of her underdeveloped character, giving Taya a hard edge that rivals Kyle's.

All of this leaves the film feeling a little dry, as the tension gurgles relentlessly under the surface. But there's also a potent sense of Kyle's reputation as "The Legend", his relationships with fellow soldiers and his family, and most of all his big heart. And after building to an astonishing climactic battle in a sandstorm, the film concludes with a beautiful but haunting epilog that highlights Kyle's compassion in a way we never saw coming.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 29.Nov.14

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