COURTESY CDN.PHILLYMAG.COM Bradley Cooper plays the American sniper Chris Kyle in an emotional story that grapples with the personal effects of war.
Bradley Cooper plays the American sniper Chris Kyle in an emotional story that grapples with the personal effects of war on a seasoned soldier.

Every soldier remembers his first kill. Chris Kyle, portrayed by Bradley Cooper in Clint Eastwood’s new release “American Sniper,” is no different.

Perched on a rooftop in Iraq, Kyle peers through his scope at a woman and her young son. Immune to distraction, Kyle narrows his eye on the targets, who carry a hand grenade. The son advances towards the platoon of marines which Kyle was charged to protect. Steady on the trigger, knowing the little boy is a threat, Kyle swallows hard, and fires.

The film is based on Kyle’s autobiography of the same name. Kyle was a Navy SEAL sharpshooter who boasted an impressive record of 160 confirmed kills over four tours of duty in Iraq. His lethality was so great that insurgents put an $180,000 price on his head. “American Sniper” came out on Dec. 25 — not exactly a warm and fuzzy movie for Christmas release.

Similar to Eastwood’s film “Unforgiven,” “American Sniper” is plagued by the manifest emotional anguish that ensues from the act of killing. However, the film is more focused on expounding upon Kyle’s personal life and his transition home post- deployment than providing insight into his specific niche within the Iraq war.

The film throws us right into Kyle’s life as a Navy SEAL, from the US Army Sniper School to firefights on Iraqi rooftops. Kyle and his comrades do anything and everything to provide cover for American troops against “savages.” This means killing a woman and child, exploiting fathers and mothers for their knowledge, and watching them be brutally punished in front of their children for cooperating with American troops.

“American Sniper” is the tale of a tragic hero, torn between what he loves to do and the family and children he loves. Even at his wedding, we see Kyle rub still-wet paint from Sniper School away from behind his ear, a testament to the two vastly different lives he must juggle and his ultimate inability to strike a balance between the two.

Although Cooper may seem an unlikely fit for the role, his performance is seamless and convincing. Kyle was a patriot through and through, a man who was wholeheartedly dedicated to his duties and driven by his desire to save his fellow soldiers and protect his country. The film accurately captures the often difficult transition soldiers face when leaving the frontlines and returning home to their families.

Cooper successfully transforms himself into a near replica of Kyle, from his slow southern drawl to his burly frame. In preparation for the role, Cooper put on 30 pounds and spent countless days with Kyle’s widow, Taya, and his family, along with the men who trained Kyle in Sniper School. Taya said she felt like she was watching her husband on screen, not Cooper: a true testament to Cooper’s performance.

In the field, Kyle is witty and animated, laser-focused on executing missions with methodical swiftness. When he is home with his adoring wife, Kyle is indifferent and withdrawn from his marriage, kids and the world around him. Instead of civilian life being the norm, it is a deviation from the adrenaline-pumping, death-filled days in Iraq that energize him.

Beyond Kyle’s disjointed mentality, acutely portrayed by Cooper, the film’s plot is also afflicted by disarray and escalates quickly and frantically, jumping back and forth from Iraq to the home front. One minute, Kyle’s girlfriend (Sienna Miller) is seducing him in black lingerie and the next he is riding over dusty, rubble-filled streets in unnamed Iraqi cities. Perhaps the disjointed feel and sudden changes between the civilian world and combat missions are meant to mimic the chaotic haze of warfare, but instead it seems to hinder plot development.

“American Sniper” does have the dramatic flare typical in Hollywood war films — slow-motion shots of bullets whizzing by and suspenseful percussion before hell breaks loose. Yet Eastwood effectively portrays the nuances of war that are rarely captured in everyday media.

YouTube videos of soldier homecomings and reunions with family pets make it seem as though returning home means soldiers can breathe a sigh of relief and effortlessly slip back into ‘normalcy.’ “American Sniper” emphasizes that this is not always the case; being under enemy fire one day and at a neighborhood barbecue the next is dreadfully overwhelming.

Despite having saved hundreds of American lives during his multiple deployments, Kyle returns home feeling as though he has not saved enough soldiers and plagued by the guilt he will eternally harbor over the soldiers who died on his watch. He begins to save veterans suffering from crippling injuries and PTSD, helping them cope with the transition he himself struggled with for so long. Kyle meets his end while taking a troubled veteran out to a shooting range.

Kyle’s death and the civilian-military divide portrayed in “American Sniper” make the film as relevant and vital as ever. As troops finally return from Afghanistan, they find themselves in the same predicament as Kyle. Here at Georgetown, student veterans help bridge the divide, but many citizens do not interact with military personnel, and vice versa. This gap in understanding is not anyone’s fault; it is an unfortunate reality that awareness will help to change.

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  1. Right-wing propaganda

  2. Lee Williams says:

    Typo. Please change the word ‘women’ to ‘woman’ in the second sentence. Thanks!
    Great article.

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