“If you think that this war isn’t changing you, you’re wrong. You can only circle the flames so long.”
I think I’m probably in the majority as someone who had never really heard of or noticed Bradley Cooper until the Hangover. As good and as funny as that movies was (if only the same could be said for the sequels), I also think I’m in the majority as someone who never really expected a prestige, Oscar laden career for Cooper. But here we are, with his third nomination in as many years. Even more impressive, all three have been for completely different performances. Depressed and suicidal in Silver Linings Playbook, to put upon with a small man complex in American Hustle, to PTSD riddled killer, in American Sniper.
Growing up tough in Texas, Chris Kyle (Cooper) lives for nothing more than rodeo riding and picking up chicks. Until one night, watching the news, he sees the report of a terrorist attack on a US embassy. He immediately gets his patriot up and enlists with the Navy. At 30, he defies the odds and makes it through the elite training to become a Navy Seal. Meeting Taya (Sienna Miller) in a local bar, they’re soon married, just in time for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and wars to be declared in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Deployed to Iraq, Kyle quickly makes a name for himself amongst his fellow soldiers and enemies as a lethal sniper, taking out more targets in a single day than every other sniper combined. It’s clear very early on that Kyle’s habit of closing off his feelings about his kills probably isn’t the healthiest way to deal with the emotional impact of his unique profession. The problems with his repressed approach are only escalated on trips home to his wife and growing family.
Things I noticed most, and liked most about American Sniper, are how brutal it is. This is a movie about men in battle, it shouldn’t look like an ass kicking, adrenalin pumping good time for alpha males and psychos. It should look terrifying, intense, anxious, dangerous and volatile. Cooper’s performance sells that every single second, whether he’s under fire on the battle field, or dealing with what it means to be normal whenever he gets States side. And the brutality isn’t just reserved for Chris Kyle. The victims of the collateral damage in this movie aren’t the kinds of Hollywood-movie-friendly targets you’d expect. In the world of American Sniper, innocence is no defense or protection.
Clint Eastwood really was the perfect person to make this movie. His entire career behind the camera has been built on efficiency, leanness and basically just not buggerising around. This is a story, and these are situations that need to be as raw and no frills as possible. Maybe someone who’s been the military and real life battle situations would see this as Hollywood and glossy. But to my untrained eyes, American Sniper is one of the most visceral war movies I’ve ever seen.