CGB Review of American Sniper

So I actually saw this movie on January 16th, the day of its wide release (its limited release date was Christmas Day of 2014).  Now I have no military experience and no one in my family has ever been deployed.  Because of this, war movies tend to alienate me.  Going into this movie, I thought I would either be bored or hate this movie.

By the end credits, I seriously considered buying another ticket for the next showing.

This is my review of American Sniper!

A man who bears the weight of two worlds on his shoulder.
A man who bears the weight of two worlds on his shoulders.

This movie is a character study of Chris Kyle and his experiences as the most lethal sniper in American history.  The Chris Kyle we meet is a man with a savior complex and a sense of duty.  The savior complex comes not from a need to boost his own ego, but rather a mentality of “If-I-don’t-who-will?” His trauma is revealed in subtle ways, like how the sound of a car engine running or a dog barking makes him stop in his tracks and look around cautiously, as if anticipating something terrible. He’s neither ashamed nor proud of his job; it’s a job that forces him to do horrible things, but it has to be done for the greater good.  This character is played to perfection by Bradley Cooper.

I criminally underestimated Cooper.  Before this movie, I only saw him as that guy from the Hangover movies.  It was jarring to see a bulked up Bradley Cooper (he’s an average sized guy in real life), but his peformance is mesmerizing.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.  Actually, if you see this movie and then go on YouTube to watch Conan O’Brien’s interview with the real-life Chris Kyle, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the movie character and the actual person.  Cooper nails the manerisms and physical appearance of the man he is portraying.  During one scene where he is walking through the veterans’ hospital to see his friend Biggles, I started calling him “Chris” in my mind.

His wife Taya Renae Kyle is played by Sienna Miller, and I like how she never comes off as nagging or imposing.  She’s a woman who fiercely loves her husband, but because she’s a civilian whose never been in combat, her ability to understand is limited and this (justifiably) frustrates her.  When Taya expresses her concerns, Chris’ stoic demeanor does come off as cold and uncaring, but it becomes clear that while he does love and care for his wife, he can only say and express so much because what he’s really feeling inside is too great to bear.

War in this film is portrayed as an inescapable situation that no one wanted, but is the reality they have to live in.  There are some really hard scenes to sit through, including one scene that involves an Iraqi insurgent holding a drill to a child’s head.  That scene had me crying like a baby.  Other than one scene that involves a dust storm, the editing allows you to see what’s going on and the pacing never skips a beat.  Every scene serves a purpose and there is no filler to be found.

Just a disclaimer: To any Muslim moviegoers who are afraid of seeing any Islamophobia in this movie, you should be okay.  The Qur’an is mentioned only once in a conversation that has nothing to do with Islam, and none of the characters bring up the Prophet Muhammad or Allah.  Actually, now that I think about it, Islam is a non-factor in the movie.  The antagonists are Al Qaeda terrorists, but we never see them reading the Qur’an or using a prayer rug. Meanwhile Iraqi civilian characters are portrayed as vulnerable people who are just as trapped and unknowing of who they can trust as the soldiers are.

Bradley Cooper’s thoughtful and subdued performance is the rock that this movie stands on.  If you want to see what this actor is capable of, forget Aloha and watch American Sniper instead.  This is a powerful film.

Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.

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