The film that defined Clint Eastwood/Director in the 1990s was “Unforgiven”. In the 2000s, “Million Dollar Baby”, his excellent boxing drama co-starring Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, likewise earned Eastwood Best Director and Best Picture Oscars. Now, for this current decade, “American Sniper” could very well be the film that takes Eastwood to the pinnacle of his profession once again. This powerhouse drama is not only one of the best movies of 2014, but may be the quintessential contemporary war film.
Bradley Cooper, who’s given recent standout performances in “Silver Linings Playbook”, “The Place Beyond the Pines”, and “American Hustle”, raises the bar even higher in this true story about the life of Navy SEAL. Chris Kyle. Kyle is enjoying life as a Texas cowboy, riding bulls and hanging with his younger brother when, in August 1998, he sees TV accounts of the U.S. Embassy attacks in East Africa. He immediately decides to join the military, and signs-on for the tough SEAL program. During his training he meets and falls in love with the woman he would soon marry, Taya (played by Sienna Miller).
There have been plenty of great films depicting the nightmares of war, and a handful of films that deal with the effects of war on soldiers once they return home. What sets “American Sniper” apart (and above) is that it does both. Eastwood provides remarkable insight into the two sides of Kyle’s life, working from a script based on Kyle’s best-selling memoir. The majority of the action takes place in The Middle East, where Kyle served four tours, compiling so many kills as a sniper (more than 150 in all) that he becomes known as “The Legend”. But it’s a title he doesn’t embrace, believing he’s simply doing his job: protecting his fellow soldiers, his family, and his country.
But it’s Kyle’s interactions with Taya on the phone from Iraq and Afghanistan (as she’s raising their family alone), and his time at home in between tours, which provide some of “American Sniper”‘s most powerful moments. We see the challenges, the stress and the suffering that both of these people are going through. Taya struggles with the idea that Chris wants to return fighting, even though he has a loving wife and children that need a father. But Chris struggles with life when he’s away from the action, and doesn’t have a weapon in his hands. He’s unable to focus on his family without hearing suspicious noises or looking for trouble. And in one tragically sad scene in an auto repair shop, we witness him incapable of accepting the thanks from a vet whose life he saved in battle. This is one of Cooper’s shining moments.
The violence in “American Sniper” is brutal, bloody, and tragically real. It’s even more authentic in look and feel than 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty” and last year’s “Lone Survivor”. Eastwood’s first-rate directing of the action sequences is fearless, highlighted by a masterful, climactic dust storm battle. This scene is topped only by the stunning impact of the final 10 minutes, which provide the ultimate tribute to this imperfect, but honorable American hero.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “American Sniper” gets an A. It is a Modern Classic.
Running Time: 133 min.