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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

American Sniper |Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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American Sniper |Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller | Review

I have a confession to make.  I did not watch American Sniper.  I witnessed it, as if I were planted on the frontline of ambush/sniper/combat tactics as an embedded journalist.  

Director Clint Eastwood’s (Gran Torino, Changeling) taut, sometimes agonizing film is the true story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history.  That last phrase is the subtitle of American Sniper, Kyle’s autobiography and Eastwood’s source material, adapted by Jason Hall in an impressive screenwriting debut.

Looking through Kyle’s eyes and rifle scope gives the viewer a sense of immediacy, of being let in on the split-second decisions that can mean instant death for one, but life for many others.  When that “one” is a child, the choice to shoot or stand down is especially compelling.  Kyle is told on several such occasions that it’s “his call.”

The story is told on two fronts, from rooftop sniper vantage points and mission assignments in Iraq to back home in Midlothian, Texas where reintegration to life with wife Taya (Sienna Miller) becomes a type of misfire that would be unthinkable in combat.

Kyle’s four tours in Iraq earn him the nickname Legend for his 160 confirmed kills (there were many more, but only witnessed kills can be confirmed).  Tall and imposing (Cooper gained 40 pounds for the role) Kyle seems to be a well-adjusted, even affable human weapon for the SEALs, returning to Iraq over his wife’s protests, leaving his two young children behind each time.

After the multiple tours take a toll on his state of mind,  Kyle finds meaningful work in helping veterans with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) finally admitting, never in words, that he suffers from it himself.  That work leads to an ironic denouement that would amount to a spoiler if recounted here.

Cooper’s ability to transform Kyle’s external trauma into internal turmoil is done almost exclusively with his eyes.  They pick off targets; they show bewilderment.  They find deadly weapons in children’s hands; they silently scream when he won’t, proclaiming invisible wounds that confirm that war remains inside the warrior even after the last bullet leaves the gun.  They watch a television that is not even on, hearing explosions and filled with a stunned anxiety.

Miller’s scenes offer a “normal” counterpart to life in a war zone, even when that war silently invades the home front as well.  She voices a not-so-quiet desperation in her quest to get Kyle to “be a human again.”

One of Kyle’s definitive lines is spoken early in the film, after his grueling SEALs training is over and before he’s deployed.  Meeting Taya for the first time in a bar, she dismisses him initially as self-centered once she finds out that he is one of the Navy’s elite.  With genuine curiosity he replies, “Why would you say I’m self-centered?  I’d lay down my life for my country.”  Cooper’s Texas-accented delivery does indeed lay the foundation for understanding Kyle’s unwavering call to duty.

A disabled Purple Heart recipient (Iraq and Afghanistan) attending the screening proclaimed the depiction of tactical maneuvers and raids as “accurate.”  High praise, indeed, for Eastwood, Cooper, and Hall.  All three have been nominated for Academy Awards.

Worthy of a salute, don’t you think?  Eastwood lets you make the call.


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