American Sniper: A Faithful, If Not Complex, Adaptation

Bradley Cooper, perf.  American Sniper.  Dir. Clint Eastwood.  Warner Bros., 2015.

Bradley Cooper, perf. American Sniper. Dir. Clint Eastwood. Warner Bros., 2015.

In a post 9/11 world, jingoism has found renewed fervor as we continue the fight against violent extremism. In this atmosphere of exceptionalism, the film American Sniper finds a niche.

Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle is the highlight of the film, as is Sienna Miller rising from the ashes of her career to take on the role of Kyle’s wife, Taya.

 

The “no frills” psychological portrait of Chris Kyle is the most convincing aspect of the film. The film does not concern itself with digging too deep into Kyle’s motivations aside from a sense of duty to God and Country, something Cooper plays to a T.

This lack of complexity never seems like a real flaw. The man Cooper portrays is a salt of the earth. Kyle is devoted to the cause, and that influences every choice he makes throughout the film, particularly one he has to make during the opening sequence, as he has his crosshairs trained on a child making his way to a group of Marines while carrying a grenade.

The suspense is as palpable then as it is in many other scenes, the combat sequences are compelling, and the acts of brutality at the hands of an enforcer for the terror group “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” hard to watch.

Despite the convincing role Cooper plays, not enough time is spent on exploring the dynamics of his marriage to a stoic Kaya. There’s an ominous tension in the air between the two that simmers throughout the film but ebbs at the close of it, as the two find renewed joy in their domesticity, however short-lived it proves to be. The effects of war, particularly in regards to PTSD, are touched upon but never fully explored.

 

What one is left with is very much your quintessential war film, albeit a good one. Director Clint Eastwood simply gives a lens to Chris Kyle’s view on life and his mission.  Kyle simply sees himself as doing his duty. And that’s good enough for a good number of Americans, for better or for worse.