American Sniper

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Jake McDorman, Brian Hallisay.

Written by: Jason Hall, (based on the book) Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and James Defelice

Running Time: 132 mins

Cert: 15

Release date: 16th January 2015

Remember a time when war films were about daring deeds and heroic, flag-waving victories where the soldiers would win the battle and come home as men. Long gone are those days. Now is a time in  which the real horrors of war are depicted in graphic detail and the stories of ordinary men suffering from mental scarring are more likely to appear on screen then the boys-own adventures of the past. Even director Clint Eastwood used to star in films like Where Eagles Dare or Kelly’s Heroes, as the man who could shoot hundreds of Germans without once changing his bullet clip.

Now Eastwood, who has become an icon in American cinema, more for his work behind the camera, takes us into the world of modern warfare with American Sniper, the true story of Chris Kyle, a Navy S.E.A.L.S sniper sent to the middle east after 9/11. His story is like hundreds of others who fought in a time when no one really knew what they were fighting for.

Chris Kyle is a regular Texan cowboy. He enjoys rodeo and drinking beer. When he sees the horrors of terrorism on TV, he becomes incredibly patriotic and signs up for the Navy S.E.A.L.S. At the age of 30, he’s one of the oldest recruits, yet he has a talent. That of being an expert marksman. After finding love in the form of Taya, the woman he then married, Chris is sent out for his tour of duty, where he builds a reputation as a superb shot, leading to the nickname, Legend. Out in the front lines, Chris is confident and determined. Returning home to his wife and kids are a very different thing.

The adage “War is hell” certainly applies here as we watch this highly respected sniper, who every soldier he meets agrees he’s a hero, struggling with civilian life and pursued by paranoia and an itching to return to fight. Eastwood balances the life at home well with the life in the dusty streets of Iraq but it’s the tension he builds during the missions that the film really works at its best.

The opening sequence, in which Kyle has to decide whether or not to shoot a woman and a young boy who are carrying a grenade, sets the tone for the piece, only allowing light relief to enter when showing the growing relationship between Kyle and Taya. As the film progresses, things get so intense and so nail-biting, you genuinely feel your stomach turning. As Kyle and his troop try to track down a known terrorist while being stalked by an Iraqi sniper, you feel glad when he has to return home, so that you, the viewer, can relax.

As with all of Eastwood’s films, it looks glorious at all times and his eye for framing is still one of the best in the business. Alas, as with most of his films, the length is problematic and in places, the film does lumber along at a snail’s pace. The final scenes also seem a little haphazard as if searching for a way to end the story, which, ultimately comes with a shock.

What Eastwood is an expert at is getting the best from his actors. As Kyle’s wife, Taya, this is Sienna Miller’s finest role to date. A well-defined performance of a woman caught between pride and constant fear, Miller accommodates a pretty flawless American accent and proves she can deliver a strong performance if given the opportunity.

As Kyle, Bradley Cooper excels. Bulked out and sporting an impressive Texan drool, so authentic it’s sometimes hard to understand what he’s saying, he is going from strength to strength as an actor, delivering a convincing portrayal of a man who finds it easier surrounded by the horrors of war than on the home front. Never going beyond the mark of histrionics,  it’s a pitched perfect performance.

American Sniper is flawed with it’s pacing and running time but having said that, it’s constantly gripping, sometimes unbearably tense and with two cracking performances from the leads, this is Eastwood’s best film in a long time.

4/5

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