American Sniper: Another Hurt Locker?

Published: January 22, 2015
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American Sniper tries to embody and exemplify Chris Kyle’s jingoistic patriotism albeit almost to a fault.

American Sniper is a biopic action-drama picture directed by, the accomplished spaghetti western cowboy hero turned director, Clint Eastwood. It is inspired from the autobiography and real life memoirs of Chris Kyle  titled, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in US Military History.

On the celluloid format of the cinema, Bradley Copper plays the protagonist and puts himself in the shoes of the larger-than-life persona of Kyle and does full justice to his role in the process.

Photo: IMDb

To the uninitiated and those lacking insight into who Kyle was, he was considered as one of the most lethal and deadly snipers in American military history, with well over 160 confirmed kills to his credit. He was able to amass this huge tally during the duration of his four tours of duty in Iraq from 2003 to 2009 due to his excellent proficiency, dexterity and prowess with the long barrel rifle. He belonged to the elite Navy SEALs division of the United States Military.

American Sniper tries to embody and exemplify Kyle’s jingoistic patriotism albeit almost to a fault. Kudos to Cooper for emulating Kyle’s character on the big screen with tactful nuance – from copying his Texan accent and mannerisms with such exactitude, to putting on 40 pounds of additional weight to look the part on screen. Having said that, Eastwood, in his pursuit to give Kyle a befitting hero’s tribute, sometimes goes a tad beyond the realm of belief. He tries to focus more on the myth that enveloped him rather than the real man – a man who was heroic and courageous but not devoid of personal shortcomings.

Photo: IMDb

Digressing from that, holistically, the movie is more about the depiction of a soldier coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how he struggles to adapt to the normal life back home, away from the ravages and horrors of war in the war torn Iraq. It depicts how combat impacts a person and the emotional toll it can take on him; how, apart from the obvious physical harm inflicted, it can suck the vitality out of him. To that degree, the director has somewhat succeeded, but the heart and life of the movie remains in those tense, adrenaline-filled action sequences that have been masterfully crafted. In these instances, Eastwood comes into his own but they are few and far between.

Although, in my opinion, there is a dearth of action sequences in the movie, when they do appear, they complement the gritty narrative of the movie brilliantly. It will be a delight for action enthusiasts. Among such action scenes is the pursuit of, self-proclaimed, Butcher of Fallujah and the hunt for the Mustafa (Sammy Sheik), a Syrian-born Iraqi insurgent sniper whose sniping skills challenge and rival those of Kyle’s. Although there is no clear antagonist or villain in the movie, the Iraqi sniper comes close to being Kyle’s nemesis.

Photo: IMDb

The movie is not seething with violence as that aspect has been kept to a minimum, but it is a visceral experience nonetheless, with adequate but restrained blood, gore and death. The only difference is that these graphic scenes aid the overall progress of the movie story-line and are not present for the sake of an action sequence.

The highpoint of the movie is set in the backdrop of a rooftop battle and an impending sandstorm in which Kyle manages to eliminate the Iraqi sniper. This particular scene, however, is not a figment of the director’s creative imagination but inspired from a real life event in which Kyle eliminated an Iraqi insurgent in Sadr City.

Photo: IMDb

Sienna Miller (Taya Renae Kyle) portrays Kyle’s initial love interest and eventually becomes his wife. I don’t think her true acting potential was tapped into in this movie and is mediocre at best. She is either shown crying, worrying or being tormented by her husband’s presence in the unrestrained death trap that is Iraq. One might say that it is perfectly understandable, as logic dictates that a wife probably garners these sentiments when one’s husband is serving in such a hostile place, but the audience will notice that after seeing the quality of acting being displayed by Cooper, anything that precedes it, in terms of acting, is equivalent to being white noise.

Photo: IMDb

Another overbearing feeling one will experience when watching the movie is the stark familiarity with the film The Hurt Locker. One can’t help but draw an outright parallel between these two as both are set in Iraq and portray characters from American military armed forces. However, the action drama interspersed with emotional depth of character(s) is explored more efficaciously in the latter. It is rather sad that a director of Eastwood’s calibre wasn’t able to truly elevate this movie like he did with other works like Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino or Unforgiven.

With context to movies that are from the larger sniper-action genre, it fails to hold its own among films that have either a more intriguing story or action thrills. Movies like Enemy at the Gates, Shooter and Sniper fare far better in terms of delivering satisfying thrills. But then again, American Sniper tries to be more of an emotional drama coupled with little action. Unfortunately, while trying to portray this hybrid drama cum action film feature, Eastwood manages to construct a muddled affair that is neither a solid entertainer nor indulges those looking for some profound emotional gratification.

Photo: IMDb

It also does not portray how Kyle actually died in real life. Instead of dying on the battlefield, he was killed in cold blood and rather unceremoniously by a 25-year- old Marine Corps veteran Eddie Ray Routh at a shooting range in his home state of Texas.    

To explain this movie in appropriate analogy, American Sniper is like a bullet projectile fired from a suppressed tactical rifle which fails to hits its mark, and we cannot see the mark, whilst also acting as a glorified eulogy for its subject, Kyle.

I would rate it a 3.5 out of 5.

Salman Junejo

Salman Junejo

The author is an agriculturist by profession and runs an agriculture company by the name of GRJ AGRO(www,grjagro.com). He has a family background in politics and agriculture. He tweets @salmanjunejo (twitter.com/salmanjunejo)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.