Clint Eastwood’s latest movie American Sniper is based on the true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle who was called “the most lethal sniper in the U.S.”.
Every time I watch a movie based on a true story I find it difficult to write about because ultimately I have to write about two things: the movie as such and the story it’s based on. Very often I like the movie a great deal but I’m highly critical of the story. Like in this case. I admire Eastwood for the way he tells Chris Kyle’s story but I’m not sure I can admire someone who killed so many people, although I admire his skills.
The movie starts in Iraq. We get to witness two of Kyle’s most problematic kills. A boy and a woman. There is never a doubt— they are not collateral damage. Kyle takes them out on purpose. With good reason as they were about to blow up a tank. Nonetheless these two kills are problematic for him as we can easily deduce.
After these initial scenes, the movie switches back and we see a few scenes from Kyle’s childhood. How he was a great shot as a small boy already, taking out a deer. This seems to be a typical sniper movie feature. I can’t remember one in which we don’t see a small boy killing an animal, which already shows he’ll be a gifted sniper.
Kyle first works as a cowboy but it doesn’t work out for him and, being a patriot, he finally joins the Navy SEALs and becomes a sniper. One evening he meets his future wife Taya; shortly after their marriage, right after 9/11, he’s sent on his first tour to Iraq.
The movie then tells us chronologically all the important things that happened during the tours and the growing unease when he’s back home. Kyle is quickly turning into a legend. The most deadly sniper the US ever had and he’s also a wanted man. The Iraqis will pay a great deal of money to the person who can kill him.
Back home, Kyle tries to “return” but he fails. He never seems to leave the war zone. He keeps on hearing gunfire; he almost kills his own dog, thinking he’s attacking his kid; he’s withdrawn and distracted. His wife suffers but stands by him. In the movie we’re led to belive she has no idea her husband has taken so many lives. There’s even a scene in which she asks him if he’s ever killed someone.
The parts in Iraq are gripping. Especially since we have a “Enemy at the Gates”-situation. There’s an Iraqi sniper who is almost as good as Chris Kyle and the two try to take each other out. I’m not sure whether it’s based on a true story as well or whether this was added/embellished for dramatic purposes. In any case, it works because it gives the movie a plotline that is suspenseful.
As I said, I admire Eastwood for the way he told this story because it never felt manipulative. I didn’t think he was glorifying Chris Kyle or condemning him and whoever watches this will be able to make up his/her own mind.
Since I’m not American I wasn’t all that familiar with his story. I knew the name and that he wrote an autobiography called “American Sniper”. While watching the movie I had no idea how it would end, that’s why I’m not mentioning it here. If you don’t know yet, let me just tell you that it’s a pretty ironic and surprising ending.
One aspect that I found extremely interesting is what the film says about killing. Or rather – how we get to experience different ways of killing. If you shoot randomly in a battle and kill people, it’s clearly not the same as when you aim carefully and see them fall. A sniper’s kills are much more personal. I could image they weigh more heavily on the conscience than when you’re not exactly sure whether or not you killed someone. In a war like the war in Iraq there’s also the huge problem of civilians taking part. No matter how hardened a sniper is, it will be difficult for him to shoot a kid.
While I find that Chris Kyle is a highly problematic figure – his patriotism is more than a little annoying – and I really can’t glorify or applaud someone who shot so many people (160 confirmed kills, 250 probable kills) – I thought this was a terrific movie. Well done, thought-provoking and the acting is surprisingly good. I’m not exactly a Bradley Cooper fan so I was wondering whether he was a good choice, but I have to admit, he did a great job. And Sienna Miller works extremely well as his wife. I highly recommend the movie. 4.5/5
Extremely well written Caroline, I will certainly be watching the movie.
Thanks, Peter. I hope you’ll like it as well. I think Bradley Cooper did a really great job.
I haven’t seen it yet so I will wait to watch it before I read your review and comment on it.
OK. I’m very interested to hear what you think. As far as I know there were some Clint Eastwood movies you liked more than I did (Gran Torino), so I’m curious to seee if we disagree on this one.
I saw it and reviewed it. You make some good points that I had not considered or did not have time for in my review. I did not like the movie as much as you because as you know, I care more about accuracy and realism. The movie has some enhancements that make it more entertaining, but tamper with history. Since it is a biopic, I don’t like it when it adds elements to make the subject more heroic.
I am not as uncomfortable with the number of people he killed as you are. I was more uncomfortable with the way the movie (and most war movies) make it seem that he chose correctly when he chose his sniping over his family. He was good, but someone else (who did not have two kids) could have done his job. I have an opinion that war is not a parent’s job. I do not feel you should choose your country over your family.
I also had a problem with how easily he seemed to overcome his PTSD. He is helping other veterans and yet he is cured by one trip to the hospital.
You make some excellent comments about the difference between killing in battle and sniping. I agree. It would have been better if the movie added a questionable kill. There must have been at least one out of the 250. To tell the truth I found myself wondering why he was so fragile at home when nothing shown in the movie indicated he should feel really bad about what he had done.
I got the impression that the movie was designed to showcase Bradley Cooper. He is amazing, but he completely dominates the movie and does not share well. You do not get to know any of his mates. He even snipes solo. I was not impressed with Sienna Miller. She was your typical whiny military wife. When she gives him an ultimatum, you know nothing will come of it.
I’m not familiar enough with his story to know how accuarte it is but I got the impression the added a suspensful plot line.
I didn’t think the movie said he did well in choising career over family. And I don’t blame him. I find a woman who gets married to a solider and the keeps on moang far more questionable.
I think being a sniper uses a specific mind set and way of seeing the world. If you go on so many tours and for such a long time, even if you do n’t have PTSD – it will chnage the way you perceive the world.
I think the movie showed that very well.
I liked Sienna MIller. The worked together as a couple. So often they combine people who just look fake together.
I’ll have to read your review. I’ll visit as soon as I get a chance.
GQ goes to WAR – – -YET AGAIN.
LAST year’s –WHO NEEDS IT?– People magazine hype.
MEANWHILE- – –
EASTWOOD —STEPPED ON the 60th anniversary
of the now 21st century avant garde —-KOREAN WAR…
Not sure what to make of this comment.
EASTWOOD and KYLE both stand compromised.
EASTWOOD meanwhile has BALKED 5 decades
of milestone anniversaries for the KOREAN WAR
—and STEPPED ON those who were THERE!
Nice review, Caroline. I found the movie interesting and entertaining but it was not one of my favourite war movies. I loved the way the relationship between Kyle and Taya was depicted – I am always a fan of the quieter moments in war movies and stories. I haven’t seen many Bradley Cooper movies, but I have seen the TV series ‘Alias’ and loved his performance in it (he comes as a newspaper correspondent and his best friend seems to have mysteries in her life and Cooper’s character tries to investigate that and help her – she, of course, doesn’t need that help as she is a spy who is posing as a bank employee). I love Clint Eastwood for the way he has reinvented his career in the past twenty years as a director. I have loved most of his movies as director (I am tempted to say I love all of his movies), but this one was probably not his finest effort, in my opinion. Maybe my thoughts might change if I watch it again. Thanks for this wonderful review.
Thanks, Vishy. Yes, I seem to have liked it better than you. I thought it was well done and let a lot open to perosnal interpretation.
I’ve seen a few Bradlye Cooper movies but wasn’t impressed. Couldn’t even tell you the names. I’ll have to have a look at Alias. It sounds like a series I might like.
I’m not always keen of Clint Eastwood’s movies but they are always thought-provoking and I like it as well that he reinvented his career as you call it.