YEP YEP – “Evil exists in the world,” fallen Navy Seal Chris Kyle’s father tells him at the dinner table as a young boy. “And there are three kinds of people: Sheep, wolves, and sheep herders. I did not raise sheep; and if I ever see you boys becoming wolves I’ll whip ya. So….you know who you are.”
American Sniper is director Clint Eastwood’s best film to date.
The above statement is sure to draw enemy fire from those of you who loved the Oscar-winning films, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, or his heavily celebrated Mystic River.
The above three films were like nails down a chalkboard for yours truly.
Not expecting to hear much from those who struggled through Jersey Boys, Trouble with the Curve, or J. Edgar.
“Aim small, miss small; aim big, miss big.” Kyle’s Navy Seal sharpshooting instructor tells him. “You aim for the button, you miss by two inches; aim for the shirt, you miss by two feet.”
Eastwood has always aimed big – as in over the top; as in the opposite of subtle; as in not trusting his audience to either follow his stories or have the appropriate emotional response to his stories without hammering home his themes. As the saying goes, Eastwood likes to put a hat on a hat.
Not so much here. American Sniper, working from an excellent screenplay from Jason Hall based on Kyle’s book, is a relatively straight-forward examination of the sharp shooter’s four tours in Iraq as “the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history.”
The narrative alternates between Kyle’s war-time heroics in the Middle East and his not so heroic family life back in California.
Bradley Cooper owns the role of Chris Kyle. Hard to imagine another actor working today who would’ve been stronger. Sienna Miller pours her heart in to the somewhat thankless role of military wife, Taya; basically relegated to redundant scenes of crying and pleading for her duty-obsessed husband to explain his persistent absence.
Eastwood touches just enough on the post traumatic stress that is inevitable following multiple combat tours, with nervous behavior back home (i.e. jumping at the sound of a leaf blower or a hydraulic drill); but then, in typical Clint form, he goes one beat too long. When his film should be ending, we get one last look at Kyle at a backyard BBQ tackling an aggressive dog who he fears is threatening his child. But that’s just Clint being Clint. Putting yet another hat on a hat.
This is still a solid film with plenty of sniper suspense moments and combat sequences.
It’s rewarding to see, especially with the recent announcement that we are pulling our brave troops out of Afghanistan, a big budget mainstream film that unapologetically celebrates and honors the commitment made by one of our most courageous fighting men – without even a hint of moral equivalence. We have been bogged down in that part of the world, seemingly forever, because the bad guys are just that bad.
They are evil.
God bless the American fighting men and women for having the backbone and determination to take the fight to the bad guys.