Already a box office success with $90 million in the bank after its opening weekend, “American Sniper” has wowed audiences everywhere and for good reason.
“American Sniper” is a biographical look at U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the deadliest marksman in American military history, with 160 confirmed kills. By focusing on such a deadly individual, the movie could have become just a simple action flick. Instead, “American Sniper” explores the personal and familial struggles Kyle went through during his four tours of duty.
From the time he was very young, Kyle had a strong protective instinct. As a boy, his father raised him with the philosophy that the world consists of three types of people: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. It was the sheepdog’s duty to protect the sheep. This lesson resonated with Kyle the rest of his life.
As adults, Kyle and his brother are living out their dream of being cowboys in Texas. Each weekend, they travel to a different part of the state and compete in rodeos. However, one evening after watching a news segment on an attack on a U.S. embassy, Kyle decides to give up the cowboy lifestyle and join the Navy SEALS so he can protect Americans.
After SEAL training is finished, Kyle meets his future wife in a bar. After 9/11, Kyle is deployed to Iraq for the first time. The movie jumps back and forth between Iraq and Kyle’s life at home. Although his first kill weighs heavy on his mind, Kyle quickly adapts to life in a warzone. His exceptional skill with a sniper rifle earns him the nickname “Legend” from his fellow soldiers. They adulate him and value his presence in the field because he keeps everyone else safe.
At home things are less than stellar. War has made Kyle distant from his wife, he becomes quiet and unapproachable. His desire to protect other soldiers grows into an obsession that drives him to sign up for three more tours of duty.
Tensions and problems amass both overseas and at home. After a particularly harrowing fourth tour of duty, Kyle decides to retire from active service. At first Kyle is worse than ever at home. However, he soon finds solace in helping fellow veterans readjust. This in turn helps him adjust, and life finally begins looking up for him and his family.
“American Sniper” does an excellent job at portraying both the positive and negative aspects of war. On one side of the coin, combat is exhilarating. Throughout the movie, the SEALs and Marines are quite gung-ho about finding and killing enemies. One describes war like holding onto an electric fence: It’s tingling and invigorating and makes you feel alive, even as it hurts you.
War also comes at a horrific cost. Many soldiers, some of Kyle’s closest friends, are maimed and killed while serving in Iraq, some due to decisions he made as a leader. For those lucky enough to escape physical harm, war also carries with it a heavy mental and emotional toll.
The acting is wonderfully done. Cooper’s performance is particularly amazing. He convincingly brings the audience into Kyle’s battle-scarred psyche. Sienna Miller’s portrayal of Kyle’s wife, Taya, is an excellent performance as well. Virtually left alone to raise a family, Taya struggles to keep herself together in the face of her husband’s troubles. She is a constant reminder of the importance of family without ever coming close to the “nagging wife” stereotype. It is also worth noting Ben Reed, WVU alumni, as the actor who plays Kyle’s dad in childhood flashbacks.
Overall, “American Sniper” is an excellent movie. It realistically portrays war without getting heavy-handed with politics in either direction. Instead it looks to give an accurate portrayal of one legendary individual’s tragically short life, and it accomplishes this goal.