Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Director: Clint Eastwood
Rating: R16 (violence, offensive language, content that may disturb)
Running time: 132 mins
Verdict: Hits its target, but not a lot else
The story of Chris Kyle - the "Most Lethal Sniper in US Military History" as his autobiography described him - might have been another kind of movie. Steven Spielberg was up for directing the story of the Iraqi war Navy SEAL originally until Warner Bros rejected the budget needed for his ambitious plans.
Spielberg had already created a couple of memorable sharpshooters in his time but judging by the examples- Amon Goth in Schindler's List and the God-bothering psycho who was part in the rescue squad in Saving Private Ryan - you get the feeling he didn't like them much.
The famously parsimonious Clint Eastwood got the directing job instead. He's had plenty of experience with movies requiring shots through telescopic sights too - his Dirty Harry even attempted to out-snipe a sniper.
And watching this plain simplistic account of his life and lethal service, you get the feeling that Kyle - killed by a fellow veteran on a Texas shooting range in 2013 - would have wanted it done Clint's way. The trouble with Eastwood's take on the Kyle story is that it too feels limited by telling us only what it sees in its sights.
Bradley Cooper in a scene from American Sniper.
It's an oddly blinkered experience telling a story about a character who arrives pretty much fully-formed and who worked - and killed- largely in isolation.
That might have made for for an intriguing psychological portrait, and as Kyle, Bradley Cooper does his best to give him a pulse and much good 'ol boy charm in the few scenes on the homefront with Sienna Miller as his wife.
But whatever mental scars his impressive body count might have left on Kyle, you don't get a sense of that here. Neither does American Sniper particularly succeed at understanding the specialist sharpshooter's mindset. A crack shot since he was a kid, we see Texas-raised and rodeo-riding Kyle volunteering post 9/11 as a 30-year-old and surviving SEAL boot camp.
Next thing you know, he's popping rounds off the rooftops of Ramadi and Fallujah while covering for the grunts on the streets below going door to door, hoping to find some of those al Qaeda blokes they've been told live round here somewhere.
As a war movie, it does have a palpable sense of chaos and lurking threat while delivering Iraq war scenes you feel you haven't seen before - the one where Kyle and squad are saved by a combination of helicopter gunship and duststorm is quite something.
Sienna Miller as Taya Kyle in American Sniper.
Also, Miller does some mighty fine phone acting every time her husband insists on ringing her on his satellite mobile, just as he's getting pinned down in another firefight.
But like last year's Lone Survivor this is a movie that just wants to be an ode to American heroism for an audience happy to take films about recent US military history at face value.
From this, you get the sense that the real Kyle was a much more interesting figure than the one portrayed here. He undoubtedly earned every medal he won. Just not sure if he needed this movie to polish them - or his legend - with such a soft cloth.
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