Written by Jason Hall
War is an intricate part of American history. America was born out of a war, a war of freedom. We celebrate our military heroes with great pride and admiration. Many, including George Washington, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower, later have become our presidents. The recent war in Iraq, however controversial for its motives, is no different. This country has rallied behind its armed forces for the service they provide to protect our freedom, and we hold those soldiers in the highest regard. Sometimes there are soldiers deserving of a little more praise.
One such soldier is Chris Kyle, portrayed in American Sniper by Bradley Cooper. A native of Texas, Kyle aspired to be a cowboy, but soon found a calling in the military, specifically the Navy SEALs. He became a world class sniper and when the time came for deployment, he found he was right at home on the battlefield. Kyle would go on to become the most lethal sniper in US history, credited with 160 confirmed kills. His skill and dedication to his country saved countless lives during the war in Iraq. However, the demons of those he could not save haunted him, causing strife in his home life with his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids, especially in between his four tours of duty.
Kyle’s is such a powerful story, communicating both the strength and weakness of war on the psyche, as well as the strength and weakness of war heroes. Chris Kyle is an America Hero in the sense that he is willing to lay his life down to save his brother and his country. His approach to war is exactly what America needs to have a successful military, and to protect the freedoms we enjoy. However, because of this mind set, soldiers are affected in many ways as the result of these wars, often causing harm and disrepair to their friends and families. It becomes a double-edged sword to say the country needs more soldiers like Kyle, more heroes, but also that these heroes go through such horror and pain that when we get them back they’re not the same. We should celebrate our heroes, but we also need to help them.
However, with such a strong story on his hands, screenwriter Jason Hall seems content to hitting the high points, staying expectantly predictable and holding nothing back in terms of subtlety. Hall writes a film using a paint-by-numbers template. Imagine all the things you might include in a film about a soldier in a war, think of the most generic way of presenting them, and make them as un-subtle as you can imagine and you too can write a script as good as Jason Hall.
As standard the script may be, director Clint Eastwood and actor Bradley Cooper are more than capable of breathing life into the proceedings. Cooper in particular shines as Kyle. He comes as close to portraying the particular mindset of a man addicted to war and struggling to adjust to life without it as perhaps any performance I’ve seen. Eastwood, on the other hand, manages to take the cookie cutter script and make the scenes in Iraq, particularly the battle scenes and make them feel very real and harrowing. His direction paired with both the editing and cinematography adds great tension to the thrilling battle sequences.
I just wish the film had a better writer on staff. To further make my point of the cookie cutter script, Hall even manages to shoehorn in a standard villain to give Kyle a competitor. The enemy sniper comes off as unnecessarily extra, perhaps better served to be included in a comic book movie than a war movie, which is off-putting in a film that, otherwise, feels very real. American Sniper has plenty that is noteworthy despite its shortcomings, but those shortcomings are too central and too consistent throughout the film to surround Cooper’s stellar performance and make the film anything better than average.