American Sniper is right on target

by Mark Burger

American Sniper, the very good and very powerful fact-based saga of reallife Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, represents yet another triumph for Clint Eastwood, who took up the directorial reins after David O. Russell and Steven Spielberg reportedly circled the project.

Eastwood has surrounded himself with much of his familiar team, including producer Robert Lorinz, cinematographer Tom Stern, and editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach. Unlike his previous film, a screen version of the Broadway musical, Jersey Boys, which demanded a stylized approach, with American Sniper Eastwood reverts to that straightforward and direct approach he does so well.

The film is also a triumph for producer/star Bradley Cooper, bulked-up some 40 pounds to play Kyle, the Texas-born “good ol’ boy” with over 160 confirmed kills as a sniper during four tours of duty in Iraq “” more than any other soldier in US history. To his fellow soldiers, he was “The Legend.” To his enemies, who placed a significant bounty on his head, he was “The Devil of Ramadi.”

Most of all, however, he was a man. Jason Hall’s screenplay, based on the non-fiction bestseller written by Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim Defelice, maintains a singular focus on the character and his immediate circumstances, both at home and at war. There is no debate or discussion about the war in Iraq “” nor does there need to be.

The story is divided into Kyle’s four tours of duty, during which his precision and concentration earn him his reputation. With each tour, however, there is unmistakable evidence of the weight it places on his conscience and his marriage. The more he needs to recuperate emotionally, the more guilt he feels about his buddies still being in the line of fire. He’s caught in an irresistible conundrum, one that even his faithful and stalwart wife Taya (Sienna Miller) can’t assuage.

The real Chris Kyle was tragically killed, along with a friend, in a 2013 shooting-range incident by a fellow veteran unhinged by his war experiences. The film, which ends with actual photographs from his funeral procession, is a heartfelt and haunting tribute to an American hero “” and one of 2014’s best films.

American Sniper opens Friday.