Over the course of four tours of Iraq, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was hailed as the most deadly sniper the US military has ever seen, who claimed to have killed 255 people in his career. Bradley Cooper takes on the lead role in the story of Kyle’s life, and the choices he made that earned him a bounty on his head in Iraq, and almost led to the end of his marriage.
No matter which way you slice it, the central character of American Sniper is a controversial one. Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall try their best to make Chris Kyle exist in some kind of moral grey area, with varying degrees of success.
Bradley Cooper impressively bulked up for his role as Chris Kyle, and does what he can to make Kyle a relatable character, but with incredibly violent scenes and a tendency to call Iraqis ‘savages’, Cooper is on the losing end of this battle. Sienna Miller fares slightly better as Kyle’s wife Taya, and it is she who injects much of the emotion and feeling into the film, mostly to do with her love for Kyle and her concern for their kids and their marriage. The rest of the cast features Kier O’Donnell, Jake McDorman and Cory Hardrict, who do what they can with small roles.
The screenplay, adapted from Kyle’s book of the same name as the film, tries to tone down much of Kyle’s explicit bloodthirstiness and hatred of the Iraqi people. Instead, we are presented with a character who purports to love America and everything it stands for, and joins the Navy SEALs to protect America. The character is toned down so much that there is little to identify him as anything but another soldier, other than his name. There was an opportunity to make the film a conflict between a US and an Iraqi sniper – which, arguably, would have been a more enthralling watch – but the chance is not taken.
As director, Eastwood seems content to rattle through scenes in which Kyle takes several kill shots, without ever truly giving context for the sniper’s actions. This means that American Sniper turns from a potentially thrilling and tense film into a chronicle of shots fired and friends lost. Eastwood never truly puts his stamp on the film, and never truly allows the tension to build, leaving American Sniper feeling like a video game with Bradley Cooper in it.
In all, American Sniper is a portrait of a Navy SEAL whose attitude toward his job has been called into question many times. Bradley Cooper does his utmost to make Kyle an engaging character, and Sienna Miller manages to inject some heart into the film, but overall, the entire affair is dull, badly paced and overly long.