Eastwood’s adaptation of Chris Kyle’s autobiographical American Sniper – the story of the super-shooter’s four Iraq tours plus his return to civilian life and the fate that awaited him there – shoots straight from the hip. Bradley Cooper is highly effective as the thick- (but not red-) necked Navy SEAL inspired in part by 9/11 to do right.
Did Eastwood deliberately back away from a more ambiguous character arc in favour of the fairly one-dimensional book template? The bare and dramatically uninspiring fact is that Kyle stays pretty much the man he is from the opening shots to the closing scenes. The film begins with a muezzin calling over the sound of rolling tanks, setting the scene for an assumed battle between ideology and reality. A 20-minute flashback loop shows Kyle learning to hunt with his father, who instils in him a protective sheepdog philosophy, interpreted by Kyle as a “leave-no-man” policy towards everything in his sights: his country, his wife (Miller) and family. “You got a saviour complex?” asks a fellow soldier. Well-spotted.
One hundred and sixty sniper kills later, “the legend” decommissions and returns home to overcome the insanity of war without spot-checking its principles. The Bible stays shut, God’s glory is a hidden agenda and Arabs are turncoats. Static and compromised by heavy-handed symbolism, American Sniper prefers stereotypes to differentiation and does neither itself nor the US any favours.
American Sniper | Directed by Clint Eastwood (USA 2014) with Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller. Starts February 26
Originally published in issue #136, March 2015