Dr. Donna Copeland’s
BRADLEY COOPER SIENNA MILLER
The tragic story of the man who became the greatest American Sniper in US history comes to light with director Clint Eastwood’s steady hand at the helm. Eastwood, a believer in the right to bear arms, certainly uses this compelling story of Chris Kyle not only to showcase his skill with a weapon and how many lives he spared, but the effect seeing that much “evil” can have on a man. Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) has in the past two years become an actor I, for one, never expected him to be. His version of Kyle, while physically accurate, doesn’t give the viewer much insight into the man behind the weapon. Of course that isn’t Cooper’s fault, it's the screenplay which is partially adapted from Kyle’s book.
“You’re a Texan, patriot, and you’re pissed off,” sign here please, the recruiting officer says to Chris Kyle (Cooper). He gave up being a cowboy to serve his country, and through training it became apparent this guy had an eye on the gage unlike anyone else. Before the first tour he marries Taya (Miller), a woman he rescued in a bar, promising to return and fulfill all her dreams. By the second tour, Taya has given birth to their first child and Kyle has become the most wanted man in Iraq; the bounty on his head from the insurgents is 180,000. They call him ‘The legend’, and by the third tour, with two kids, everyone knows who he is. By the 4th tour, Kyle continues to chase Iraqis down and finish this cat and mouse chase he started.
I can’t help but feel that after the success of Lone Survivor last year, (another film that was mistakenly campaigned as an Oscar film early on), this pattern of hyping a film that has no business in the awards race is a detriment to an otherwise decent film. American Sniper, due to the prestige of its director and star, is attempting to break into an already crowded awards race and its unfair pressure put on a film that would have fared better in the spring or summer. Cooper gives a stern, unrecognizable, physically altered performance, but the script never digs into what made this guy tick. We know even less about Taya; everything is focused on the manhunt and Kyle’s warfare experience. It's gestures instead of dialogue, silence instead of exploration.
American Sniper looks fantastic; the sound mixing and effects are incredible and top notch. Eastwood always knows who to hire for the right job. The decisions Kyle must make, including pulling the trigger on a woman and a child, we see and understand it isn’t done without moral and internal repercussions; that doesn’t need dialogue. Kyle and his unit are out to stop a man nicknamed The Butcher; his weapon of choice is a drill, and it is one of the most intense sequences; we have too many bad guys, not enough good guys and Eastwood crafting it all together seamlessly with his right hand editor Joel Cox (Invictus, Letters from Iwo Jima). Compared to another war film like Fury, American Sniperl acks the emotional impact it needs; it hits the target but misses the bull’s-eye.
Final Thought – Forfeits emotional character depth to focus on high quality scenes of war.
By: Dustin Chase
Bradley Cooper plays a taciturn, single-minded patriot (Chris Kyle) who was brought up to fight and protect his own. God, country, and family were his primary concerns, and although he flirted with the possibility of a cowboy's life, he changed his mind when he saw the towers go down on 9/1/1 and joined the Navy to be a Seal. Along the way, he marries and has children, and does four tours in Iraq, the last one being for nine months long. He earns a reputation for the number of kills and the nickname "The Legend."
The stringent training process Seals go through is well known, but it is good to be reminded of that in American Sniper as we observe Chris undergoing it. He shows impressive strength and self-confidence and the ability to size up a situation rapidly and come up with a plan. When he gets to Iraq, there are glimmers of extreme compassion and caring—especially toward children—that are unexpected because of his usual unemotional demeanor. He relishes being in the thick of fighting, and against orders, insists on going with the Marines from house to house looking for combatants.
Before long, Chris appears to be more comfortable in battle with his brothers than at home with his family. There, despite his wife Taya’s (Sienna Miller) pleading and coaxing, he shares little with her, and simply walks off with a mild reassurance when she is brought to tears. He does not even explain to her what she is overhearing (loud, rapid gunfire) during some of their telephone conversations. When his phone is dropped in the midst of a battle, she is driven almost mad because she thinks he’s been shot.
I normally don’t care much for war films, but I did like Clint Eastwood’s previous Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of our Fathers, which is probably attributable to the fine direction, but perhaps just as much to Tom Stern, the cinematographer for all three films. Stern’s cameras give exceptionally clear pictures of the action and has well composed, artful frames redolent with meaning so that I see more going on than simply bullets flying. Like Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker and a more recent film with Juliette Binoche (1,000 Times Goodnight) as a war photographer, American Sniper gives us perspective on the seductive aspect of war—the excitement of it and the satisfaction of performing something meaningful and humanitarian.
Journalist David Wood, in Fresh Air’s 11/11/14 podcast of Terry Gross’s interview, elaborates on this additional side effect of war, which is termed “moral injury.” This occurs when the soldier is doing everything right, but bad things happen anyway (e.g., shots unintentionally killing women and children). The guilt about this, along with separation and loss of “brothers” the soldier has fought with, causes problems after coming home. Distinct from PTSD, which has physical symptoms that situations at home can trigger, moral injury results from (unwarranted) feelings of responsibility and refusal to talk about it.
Wood: The biggest thing that [the veterans] told me was that they're carrying around this horrible idea that they are bad people because they've done something bad and they can't ever tell anybody about it — or they don't dare tell anybody about it — and may not even be able to admit it to themselves.
With this role, Bradley Cooper widens the range of characters he portrays so convincingly, this being the polar opposite of his roles in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, in both of which he was nominated for and won awards. Sienna Miller plays the coy but quick-witted young woman at the bar who ends up being Chris’ wife and a mother, then must shift to being a more mature but clearly frustrated woman. They have good chemistry in this portrayal of budding romance and subsequent difficult marriage.
Eastwood once again illustrates a significant social issue, “moral injury.”
By Donna R. Copeland