American Sniper, 5/5/17, 4.5 Stars out of 5.
Ready. Aim. Review! The true story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) comes to life in the almost-true-to-life film adaptation of his completely-true-to-life memoirs of the same name. We open with the Islamic call to prayer playing over the logos and establishing shots of troops in Iraq, followed by Chris aiming at a woman and child who bring out an rocket powered grenade and we are left in suspense as to what happens, because it’s time to see how he got there. We go all the way back to when he was a kid, which shows how his character is formed, then we meet him as a cowboy who rides a bucking bull in a rodeo on weekends, after which, he walks in on his girlfriend cheating on him, kicks her out, and eventually enlists in the Navy Seals after discussing the 1998 US embassy bombings. He undergoes BUDS, the Navy Seal training program for those who have not read the book (spoiler alert: I did), and one night at a bar, he meets Taya (Sienna Miller), holds her hair as she barfs after they bond, and eventually date each other before marrying. After seeing the 9/11 attacks on TV, he is sent to Iraq when they invade. Before I continue, I just want to say they skim over quite a bit of detail, such as a medical issue that almost kept him out, his college experience, his ranch job, etc. I highly recommend checking out the book for more on that, because it also gives a more insightful look into Taya’s thoughts during the four tours, because she actually contributed to the book. They also left out him getting pulled over when called into action on 9/11, and getting an escort instead of a ticket when he explains the situation. That aside, they do a great job of adapting the actual story, and while I won’t say either the book or this movie provide a perfect look at what life as a Navy Seal is like, let me put it this way: this movie does a great job visualizing it and showing what kind of hell a warzone is, and the book captures the psychological aspect better. The first tour takes us back to where we started: Chris trying to decide if he should snipe a woman and child with an explosive, and in a suspenseful scene such as that, he does what he has to, and what follows is a rotation between his tours and stateside scenes that follows him literally to the day he dies. Throughout this story, Chris is the only real developed or relatable character here, and everyone else is simply part of his tours and post-discharge life, whether it be his family or brothers-in-arms, and they do exactly what they need to do, and nothing more. This is his story. What did you expect, perfect development of every character? Ok, anyone who has lived through similar situations will likely relate to them, while outsiders may feel instant sympathy because of the intensity of it, and because this really happened. Chris Kyle is the center of our attention, and Clint Eastwood keeps it that way. Despite all this, I have to penalize the plot for one slightly minor error: Chris’ beard while deployed. It was distracting throughout because last I checked, active soldiers aren’t allowed to have beards, and I double checked when I finished watching, and can say they did make a plot foul in this case, and even if it weren’t the case, I searched for actual pictures of Chris Kyle when he was active, and he clearly does not have facial hair. For his active duty scenes, I really don’t know what they were thinking, but this movie still did a lot right, so I won’t dwell on it. Regulation violating beards aside, the action is captured brilliantly, and they don’t hold back on how grotesque and violent war is. To quote General Sherman “War is hell,” and Clint Eastwood, along with Tom Stern as cinematographer, bring that hell to life in a truly believable manner. I’ve never been in combat, so I have no right to comment on accuracy of that kind of imagery. Everything from the general scenarios (especially the kid some of the Iraqis kill with a drill) to the realistic touches of blood in the combat scenes contribute to the realism of the imagery, and every scene advances the story of Chris Kyle’s life story. The soundtrack also contributes to the suspense of Chris lining up his shot, and sits out the more intimate scenes and one of the larger action pieces to bring focus to what’s going on. We also get a sense of a Navy Seal’s sense of humor through the soldier-to-soldier banter that humanize Chris and his brothers-in-arms, some of which is definitely not suited to younger audiences, but I will not penalize it, because it brings a sense of realism. Overall, American Sniper hits most of its targets, with a major foul-up in historical accuracy and military regulation accuracy, but is still worth watching to see the reenactment of the real life heroics of Chris Kyle, a true American Hero.