American Sniper starts with the unbearably tense scene from the trailers where Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is perched on a building top with a mother and child duo in sight who could possibly be the ones to attack a convoy of American troops somewhere in Iraq. Its just when Kyle is about to shoot them down that the film quickly jumps to Kyle’s childhood and shows us his upbringing as a cowboy, his subsequent joining the SEALS and his meeting with his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) through some quick quick scenes. The story then swooshes back to the point where it had left off and shows us what happens to the woman and the child.From this point on the story violently moves back and forth between Kyle’s trips to Iraq and the way his personal life develops.
Based on the book of the same name written by Kyle himself in collaboration with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice, American Sniper follows the same episodic narrative which was made popular by films like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. The story unfolds not as a clear and straight forward narrative but as a broken thread of crisscrossing lines. One sees the changes in the man that the war brings forth and one sees it as Kyle’s life unfolds both in the war and his personal front almost side by side. We see him as a confident young man performing in rodeos and not even blinking an eye as he finds his girl friend in bed with someone else. We see him as someone confident and straight and to the point. He meets Kaya and the two immediately strike a chord. They subsequently get married and have two kids.
Kyle is someone who has had an illustrious career in the Navy and is regarded as the best sniper in the history of America. This film however shows us the cost he paid to be that man. Everytime he thinks of returning home for good, he is pulled back into the battle owing primarily to the falling comrades and his unfinished duel with another sniper on the enemy side who tends to keep getting better of him and his men in more than one occasion. One such duel happens when Kyle and his company looking for a man named Zarqawi interrogate a family. The family which comprises of a Sheikh, his infant son, and two other women are then brutally murdered by the terrorists with Kyle and his men present at eh spot. He is rendered ineffective primarily because of the sniper who literally single-handedly twists the fight in the terrorist’s favor.
Accounts of kills are taken directly out of the book and made into absorbing yet disturbing accounts in the film. There is this scene which shows Kyle register his longest shot ever when he guns down a terrorist who is trying to fire a rocket launcher at a convoy from a distance of more than a kilometer. Once he is shot dead, his infant son picks up the rocket launcher and Kyle is quickly thrust into a situation wherein he might have to kill a child. Bradley Cooper successfully brings to light the exact feelings that might have gone through the man as he embarked upon kill after kill. His performance is in strong keeping with mood of the film and he never for once gets over board. His mannerism, his expressions and his physicality are evenly matched with the man that he is depicting.
Once back from war, Kyle shows signs of post traumatic stress disorder but he remains in check. His wife becomes his greatest source of strength and his mirror. He takes to helping other like him not knowing that one of these men will ultimately be the reason for his death. The story doesn’t exactly move from ‘a’ to ‘z’ with a beginning, middle and an end in that order as is customary with all narratives but it does show us a definitive period in the man’s life that it sets out to chronicle. The best thing about the narrative is that fact that it does tie up all the loose ends and leaves no questions unanswered.
The film has some of the most tense and well choreographed action sequences of recent times. The scene towards the end where Kyle finally takes out the enemy sniper after so many previous stand-offs and even a bounty on his head, is a treat to watch. I loved it not because of the way it was executed but the speed at which it unfolds. Once the man is down, the real action starts which also has an elaborately filmed stand storm which would give many disaster films a run for their money. This very sequence reminded me so much about a game called “Spec Ops” and its initial sequence. The street fights and shootouts are shot with penance and vitality giving you the feeling of being there at that moment. The seal training is another amusing watch primarily because of the witty interactions that is going on and also because of the way it is inter-cuts with Kyle’s initial interactions with Taya.
Sienna Miller, sporting black hair, has somewhat of a bittersweet role. Even though she is significantly present in the first half, the second limits her essay quite a bit. However she excels in her role and comes to her own in some of the key sequences. It is because of her effective portrayal, that some of the sequences gather further meat. The best example is the scene where she is speaking with him over the telephone when suddenly Kyle’s company is ambushed. She hears only the cries and the sounds of the bullets while Kyle is fighting for his own life and the life of the others of his company. That scene comes when she is informing him about their to be born boy. This scene is terrifying from her prospective and sows the seeds of her asking the man to give up the Navy and be home for ever. Kyle on the other hand has his own reasons for going back again and again.
Overall, American Sniper is thought provoking and dark. It is the chronicle of a man who was a boogeyman for his enemy. A man who has over a 150 confirmed kills from 250 likely kills. Eastwood has left no stone unturned to come out of the drudgery of his previous films which have been less than impressive. This film also marks a significant chapter in Cooper’s career who has once again outdone himself. This is a must watch.