Right On Target1/21/2015
Clint Eastwood has marked out an interesting career trajectory for himself. First he spent 30 years as one of Hollywood’s most consistent and bankable action stars. Then, after he got too old to bother with that anymore, he woke up one morning and said to himself, “To hell with it, I’m going to start winning Oscars.”
Eastwood has been directing films since 1971, but it was not until 1992’s “Unforgiven” that he really kicked things into high gear. Since then, Eastwood has become known for his deft emotional touch behind the lens, and his ability to reflect the honesty of human emotion on film has earned him four Best Director nominations, including wins for “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
“American Sniper” did not get Eastwood directing nomination No. 5, but it was not for lack of trying. The 74-year-old has taken a film that could very easily have blown up into “America: Fuck Yeah” levels of unintentional hilarity and self-parody and made it into one of the more compelling essays on the American soldier in recent history.
“American Sniper” is the real-life story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL and the man officially recognized as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. Kyle (played by a buffed-up Bradley Cooper) enlists in the Navy for the same reason a lot of patriotic young men did in the late 1990s and early 2000s: to kill terrorists. To that end, he enters SEAL training and, as a lifelong hunter, finds himself naturally suited behind a sniper’s long gun.
Basic training leads to his first tour in Iraq, then a second, a third and then a fourth. In between, Kyle meets his future wife Taya (Sienna Miller) in a bar, gets married and has three children. It is here, in the breaths between the chaotic tedium of sniper combat, that the film shines brightest.
Rather than descending into the gauzy embrace of outright hero worship, “American Sniper” examines Kyle as a human being subjected to the incredible stresses of war and death. Before his first deployment, Kyle is a charming, outgoing, witty man who makes friends easily. But as each successive tour takes its toll, we watch Kyle regress further into his own head. He comes home looking and feeling increasingly hunted, and he battles paranoia, rage, depression and the detachment some veterans feel when dropped back into civilian life and are suddenly surrounded by people incapable of possibly empathizing. “American Sniper” addresses this feeling of disconnect more capably than 2008 Best Picture winner “The Hurt Locker,” and it gets there thanks entirely to the combined efforts of Eastwood and Cooper. Eastwood’s uncanny ability to take the harshness of war and turn it into something that people can relate to is second to none, but here it has been given the perfect compliment in Cooper, who turns in what is probably the best performance of his career.
For some, the film will admittedly not go far enough in telling the full story of the man other soldiers called “The Legend.” No mention is made, for example, of Kyle’s post-career penchant for braggadocio or the instances where he allegedly stretched the truth to protect his own legendary image. But when looked at within the larger context, these are just trifles. If you believe war is the kind of thing capable of turning men into heroes, then it is impossible not to objectively view Kyle as having been so anointed. CV