Bradley Cooper's performance as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is the kind of performance that can shape a man. Strong, dedicated, moralistically intact, and molded with a true sense of purpose, Kyle was the kind of soldier that epitomized that old-fashioned will of the American military, and Cooper's portrayal of such a man is one of the most impressive acting feats (of similar dedication and purposeful intent) of the past year.
American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, immaculately recounts many of the historical feats portrayed in the book of the same name (written by Chris Kyle, the man labeled as "the most lethal sniper in United States military history") and does a great service to show the inner turmoils of the man rather than the political nature of the world surrounding him. Smartly, the film centers itself on the "legendary" soldier, the husband, and the emotionally tortured soul, rather than the more common "Hollywood" approach of drowning the situation in one-sided politics and uninteresting congressional strife. This is strictly a film about a man who dedicated and sacrificed his life to serving his country because he legitimately loved it. In my mind, there is no more honorable thing.
The film veers back-and-forth (and at time glosses over for the sake of keeping the film around a two-hour running length) between moments during his military span and the moments at home in between his four tours of duty in Iraq. At home, he and his wife Taya (played by Sienna Miller) struggle with his emotional distress, a common affliction among many soldiers having to face harsh choices and inhuman situations during battle. In battle, the film hinges on moments involving a rival Iraqi sniper and Kyle's insistence on hunting the man down. Cooper portrays these moments with such power and emotional grace, especially during a scene recounting his first two confirmed kills and another where barely a second's worth of time keeps him from pulling the trigger on a target he wants desperately not to have to fire upon.
American Sniper pulls no punches in showing real horror, especially in a gut-wrenching scene involving a man known as "the Butcher" as he uses a power drill to punish captives. The film is engaging and never dull, though a few of the visual effects could have been given a bit more time in post-production to appear more believable. Even then, I was never disengaged from the film. The ending, recounting events portrayed only two short years ago, really hits home with true emotional power by showing the real Chris Kyle, and all those he had either touched or saved through sacrifice and harsh choices. In those final moments is where Sniper really nailed it home in such an emotional high that left the audience (at least the one I was sitting with) silent.
Bradley Cooper clearly dedicated himself to the role and gives what I feel is the most honorable and honest portrayal of a true American hero, and does both Kyle's family and the audience a great service in showing more than just the violence of war, but also what pains and sufferings many of these men have to go through to defend their country and the people they love so much. With the still-great Eastwood behind the wheel, and military advisers in top form to keep the feel of authenticity and poise to the film, American Sniper is yet another great entry (along with last year's Lone Survivor) that pays an honest tribute to soldiers who put their lives on the line for things often greater than themselves.
One of the moments that both the real Chris Kyle and the film make mention is the fact that he never wanted to give a number to how many kills he made, but rather "brag" about how many lives he actually saved. Unfortunately, the publisher of the book insisted on an actual number of kills.