WHATEVER CLINT Eastwood's exact politics may be--kind of libertarian? sort of conservative?--his hit movie, American Sniper, waves no flags for America's involvement in the Iraq war. In a film inspired by the true story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, said to be the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, Eastwood marshals deep feelings about the moral and physical destruction of war, and he flashes anger toward the higher-ups who guide young warriors to their doom. He doesn't flinch from showing us the full ugliness of combat--American forces violently invading an Iraqi home, a vicious jihadi taking a power drill to a helpless civilian--but this is in no way an old-school Hollywood war movie. Eastwood never exults in the brutal action, and throughout the film we can feel his disgust.
Over the course of four tours in Iraq, Kyle was credited with 160 confirmed enemy kills, and he was probably responsible for many more that were undocumented. The man had a terrible gift. Bradley Cooper, who acquired the film rights to Kyle's bestselling 2012 memoir early on, plays him here, bearded and bulked-up, in a performance of intense focus. Cooper has come a very long way from his breakthrough in Wedding Crashers 10 years ago. Here he portrays a difficult character, a man whose emotions are held tightly inside, by subtly projecting those feelings without parading them before us. This is a wonder to watch throughout.
We're introduced to Kyle on a rooftop in Fallujah, sighting his rifle on the street below, alert for targets. He sees an Iraqi woman stepping into the street with a boy who could be her son. She hands the boy a weapon she has brought out from beneath her chador as they both watch an American convoy that's making its way toward them through the rubble of the city. Kyle's duty is alarmingly clear, but his soul is torn.
To illustrate Kyle's divided nature, Eastwood fills in his backstory with compelling economy, flashing back to his Texas childhood. We see him out hunting with his father, dropping a deer with a difficult shot. We see the whole family in church, and later, at the family dinner table, we hear his father explaining his stern view of the world. There are three kinds of people, he says: sheep, who "don't believe evil exists"; wolves, the evil men who prey upon them; and sheepdogs, men with "the gift of aggression," a "rare breed that fives to confront the wolf." Kyle knows which sort of man his father wants him to be.
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