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American Sniper - Review

American Sniper

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

THE moral and ethical complexity of fighting the war on terror is the primary target of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, a powerhouse piece of filmmaking that offers no easy answers.

Based on the life of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in US military history, this begins life as a biopic but quickly widens its scope into so much more.

And while Kyle’s perception as an American hero has been lambasted by some in the States and further afield, it’s a criticism that misses the point. Eastwood’s film actually questions the notion of heroism and the cost of it, while his Kyle could just as easily serve as a metaphor for the countless troops who have deployed to the frontline of the war on terror and been forced to take stock of their core values and even humanity both during and after the war.

Kyle, played in superbly under-stated fashion by Bradley Cooper (whose passion project this very much is), was a former cowboy and deer hunter who became compelled to enlist following 9/11. He subsequently completed four tours of Iraq, during which time he became one of Al-Quaeda’s most wanted targets. In turn, he also became obsessed with finding a high ranking official known as The Butcher.

Back at home, meanwhile, his long-suffering wife (Sienna Miller) is forced to raise two kids while watching powerlessly as the man she once knew struggles to reconcile home life with the atrocities he has seen (and even been forced to commit).

Some of the themes of Eastwood’s film have been covered before but they are given extra heft here by the proximity to which the director places you in the action (much like Kathryn Bigelow did in The Hurt Locker).

The tension is almost unbearable at times as Kyle is forced to decide whether to terminate women and children in order to save his own men. Questions abound: how long is too long to wait before taking the shot? What is the emotional cost of fighting a war in which children can be used as weapons? And what is the most effective tactic in combating such terror?

Kyle is also a complex creation. An all-American patriot, for sure. And a dedicated family man in his own mind. But also a battle-scarred individual wrestling with the consequences of his own actions and failures. A man who has seen too much. A victim of sorts. But someone addicted to giving everything for his country and to making his mark on the conflict. Cooper, for his part, conveys all of these complexities in engrossing fashion.

There are times when he seems mis-guided in his unswerving loyalty but is he merely kidding himself to survive?

If American Sniper excels on an intellectual and psychological level, its no slouch in the action stakes either. Several set pieces are executed in pulse-quickening fashion (not least a harrowing early encounter with the butcher and a climactic tussle in the midst of a sand-storm). While there’s an air of uncertainty and dread permeating throughout, heightening the tension.

Eastwood, as a filmmaker, has ventured into war territory before both as actor (Kelly’s Heroes, Heartbreak Ridge) and director (Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima) but owing to the proximity of the events being depicted here American Sniper could be his most authoritative examination of its frontline consequences yet. Needless to say, it’s a must-see.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 130mins
UK Release Date: January 16, 2015