The American military, and the Navy SEALs in particular are fans of the Marvel Comics Character The Punisher. They read his comics. They put his skull symbol on their vehicles and on their clothing. For those who don’t know, the Punisher is a character who loses his family and then embarks on an endless violent war. American Sniper is about a man who embarks on an endless violent war and loses his family.
I suppose I should say that this review will definitely have spoilers but the book it’s based on is a best seller and the real life story has been in the papers and online. So I don’t feel I’m ruining anything. If you’re someone who wants to go in to movies blind, I suggest you stop reading movie reviews.
American Sniper begins with Chris Kyle in Iraq shooting a child carrying a grenade. It then flashes back to Kyle’s first experience killing something while hunting with his father. Through the handful of scenes of his childhood we see that Kyle is raised with a specific belief system. It is one that believes in good and evil. It’s one that believes anyone who doesn’t believe in good and evil is a ‘sheep’. And it’s one that can easily excuse any amount of violence for a righteous cause.
Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle with a single minded intensity that shows off his acting chops. The fact that he did this and did the voice for Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy is impressive. I’m glad he finally got out of the role of playing the asshole in romantic comedies. He’s a better actor than that.
We watch as Chris Kyle joins the Navy and goes through the rigorous Navy SEAL training we’ve seen in a dozen other movies. And then we go through all four tours that Chris Kyle went through. In between training and the tours, Kyle meets, marries, and impregnates Taya, a woman he meets in a bar. The scenes with Chris Kyle home between tours are torturous. Not because they’re bad, but because it’s so abundantly clear that Kyle feels every moment he’s away from the war, people are dying because he’s not there to protect them.
It would be easy to criticize American Sniper for continually referring to the people in Iraq as ‘savages’ or for directly implying that 9/11 has anything whatsoever to do with Iraq, but as this is Kyle’s story, I’m not sure this is so much a mistake as it is just the simplistic way in which the character of Chris Kyle seems to view things.
After his four tours, Kyle tries his best to return home. He finds that he can help his fellow veterans and that doing so gives him a sense of accomplishment. He does his best to reconnect with his family. And then things end tragically. I found it a strange choice on director Clint Eastwood’s part to show so many graphic deaths and then shirk away from actually showing the fate of Chris Kyle. I suppose one could argue that it’s out of respect for Kyle’s friends and family, but it’s not as if the other people killed throughout the movie, both allies and enemies didn’t have any friends or family.
American Sniper is a well-made and entertaining movie that won’t challenge even one preconceived notion you might have about war, Iraq, or being in the military. As movies that take place in Iraq go, it’s better than Jarhead but not as good as The Hurt Locker. If you’re really looking for some great Iraq war drama, I highly suggest you check out the HBO miniseries Generation Kill.
American Sniper is in theaters now. You can pre-order American Sniper at this link.