In one scene in American Sniper (out Christmas day), Navy SEAL Chris Kyle comes home from his first tour in Iraq. Though he’s sitting still and claims he’s fine, a doctor slaps a blood-pressure cuff on him and reads his blood pressure as 170/110.
If that doctor had put that cuff on me as I sat in the theater watching this movie, my blood-pressure reading probably would’ve been 500 over 499.
This movie is INTENSE.
Based on Kyle’s autobiography of the same title (cowritten with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice), Sniper details Kyle’s four tours in Iraq, where he earned the nickname Legend for racking up the most confirmed kills in U.S. military history. Between his SEAL training and deployments, he gets married and fathers two children. I won’t reveal any more if you don’t already know the rest of his story.
I expected some cockiness and showboating from Bradley Cooper as Kyle—how else to portray a man called Legend, right? Instead, a beefed-up Cooper gives a subtle but incredibly effective performance as a man haunted by his war experiences, though he might deny it to everyone including himself. The actor plays Kyle with the quiet confidence of a man who knew his own talent and didn’t have to brag or lord it over anyone.
The most gripping moments included nothing but a closeup on Cooper’s eye, as Kyle contemplates—sometimes agonizes over—whether or not a target is friend or foe, and should live or die. His breathing would be the only sound we hear (I stopped breathing altogether in those scenes) as he makes these impossible decisions, sometimes within seconds. We see what it costs him. And when he sights down his rifle at a child? Forget it. I could not watch.
As his wife, Taya, Sienna Miller has chemistry with Cooper but not every emotional note she played felt true to me. I didn’t quite believe her when she expressed her frustration and fear every time Kyle went back to Iraq. It’s not clear if this is because of the way the role was written (Jason Hall adapted the book) or directed.
Otherwise, Eastwood’s lean direction is on target. He tells the story in a straightforward way; when you have facts like this there’s no need for embellishment. The soundtrack is also sparse because war doesn’t require a fancy score.
At times, Sniper reminded me of The Hurt Locker, which is also about a soldier in the Iraq War who’s very good at his job but maybe not so much at just living a civilian life. But Chris Kyle’s story is real, and like the bullets that flew from his rifle, its impact is devastating.
Nerd verdict: Heart-stopping Sniper
Photo: Warner Bros.