Rated: R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 25,2014 Released by: Warner Brothers
Clint Eastwood (Jersey Boys, Gran Torino) returns to the warfront with subtly effective vitality in this sincere adaptation of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle's autobiography that probably won't be viewed as one of his career highlights during an amazing twilight which isn't fading yet. While taking into account some of the same motifs as Kathryn Bigelow's fictionalized, more undaunted and original look at a man who saw war as drug in The Hurt Locker.
But, in American Sniper he solemnly makes Kyle's vantage point riveting through Bradley Cooper's startling brawny Texan metamorphosis with the prolific marksman having the most official kills in U.S. military history having served four tours in Iraq.
Chris (as earlier seen in childhood by Cole Konis) has spiritual force in his home life, but feels the need to nobly combat what feels threatening, especially after the horrors of 9/11. Enlisting in the Navy, Kyle (now Cooper), who's devoted most to God, then country and family, hones his skills as an eagle-eye sharpshooter and pursues local pretty girl Taya (Sienna Miller of Foxcatcher).
How Eastwood teams up again with ace lenser Tom Stern in the opening which has more clarity later when it is returned to near the story's halfway point - Chris's decision to terminate a woman and young boy who may have a bomb - turns out to be critical for the expert envisioning himself as a sheepdog who earned the nickname The Legend. The director lends musical aplomb to another spare, yet touching score.
Chris operates at a distance in this anecdotal, yet often taut and considerate aspects of the mental anguish for this kind of work and Cooper is more than physically apt for the challenge. Especially when an adept Syrian-born enemy sniper known as The Butcher (Sammy Sheik) takes aim at U.S. troops.
Instead of casting judgments on the conflict or Kyle's service to his country, the ramifications of the experience is what is penetrating, even from a philosophical standpoint as a pointed portentous post-traumatic stress ensues. Cooper (impressive for David O. Russell in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle and also a producer here) lets the apprehension seep into a man presumably driven by a hard swagger over a decade in harrowing situations, whether home invasions or a stand-off in dusty environs like Sadr City or Fallujah.
Maybe back on the home front doesn't resonate like what was depicted in films like Stop Loss or When We Were Soldiers as Miller makes the most of her rudimentary character with an obdurate edge that almost matches her husband whom she is sure is changed by the war.
How the conflict unfolds under the sure-handedness of Eastwood (especially in the moments around the more unnerving interludes) often vigorously connects to his prominence, interaction with comrades-in-arms and family in a rather effective soulful way even with unexpected communication. A sobering examination of the toll of brutality and violence is at least on a par with last year's solid Lone Survivor with a crowning sandstorm assault that counters its spurious, disjointed structure with a lovely postlude, fateful, but tenderly unforeseen. One that makes Cooper's turn muscularly simmer throughout entrenching iniquity.