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 Clint Eastwood's American Sniper

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Clint Eastwood's American Sniper   Thu Feb 12, 2015 6:00 pm

As a director, Clint Eastwood has always been willing to take on any genre. Westerns like Pale Rider (1985) and Unforgiven (1992), Crime dramas like A Perfect World (1993), Absolute Power (1997) and Mystic River (2003), romance films like Breezy (1973) and The Bridges of Madison County (1995), biopics with White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) and Invictus), and musically themed films such as Bird (1988) and Jersey Boys (2014). But one genre he's come back to time and again is war. Even as an actor, he appeared in Where Eagle's Dare (1968) and Kelly's Heroes (1970), and as a director, he took on war with Heartbreak Ridge (1986) and then made the double bill Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006). For his latest film, he's taken on another true story, and it's a very harrowing and upsetting film. Based upon the 2012 book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. The book was immediately optioned by Warner Bros. who offered the book to David O. Russell and Steven Spielberg. Indeed, Spielberg worked on the film for a while, and planned a big, sprawling epic of Kyle's life, however, the budget dictated otherwise. Then it landed on Eastwood's desk, and he immediately saw potential in the project, and saw it as a very human story at heart, and also saw it as a comment on the after effects of war. American Sniper is Eastwood's darkest and most unsettling film to date, but it's also his most heartbreaking film to date, even more so than Million Dollar Baby (2004).

American Sniper tells the story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), who was taught to hunt and shoot a rifle by his father Wayne Kyle (Ben Reed). Chris works as a rodeo cowboy, but after the U.S. Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, Chris decides to join the U.S. Navy, after being deeply shocked by the news coverage of the bombings. He is eventually accepted into becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL, where he's pushed to the limit, and undergoes a grueling training regime. During his training, Chris meets Taya Renae (Sienna Miller), and the two eventually marry. However, 9/11 happens and Chris is soon shipped off to Iraq. Two of his first kills are a young boy and his mother, who were going to kill Chris' fellow soldiers. The experience deeply affects him, but he carries on with his job in Iraq regardless, and he ends up counting up many kills, which earns him the nickname of "Legend" amongst his fellow troops. But it's a very dangerous job, and Chris ends up on the hunt for al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and it brings him into contact with al-Zarqawi's henchman known as "The Butcher" (Mido Hamada), who kills his victims with a power drill. But, Chris finds himself in a battle between another sniper known as Mustafa (Sammy Sheik), who seems to be even better than Chris. When Chris goes back to America, he can't readjust to civilian life, and Taya worries for Chris' state of mind. Chris ends up going back to Iraq more than once, just so he can find the elusive Mustafa and bring him down once and for all, but Chris has a massive bounty on his head by the insurgent troops because of the all the kills that Chris has racked up.

There was every danger of American Sniper coming across as a very jingoistic and overly patriotic, but it's not, this is about a man doing his job, protecting his fellow countrymen in a dangerous and hostile land. Overall, this is a very tense film, and it focuses on the effect that post-traumatic stress can have on troops coming home. But Eastwood knows how to tell a good story, and he keeps the story focused and to the point, and it's even more of an inspiration that Eastwood is still making films at 84 years old, when many other directors have long since retired, and he shoots the film with the energy and enthusiasm of a director half his age. Eastwood also has a good team behind the camera to bring the story to the screen, American Sniper is tautly short by Tom Stern, who has been Eastwood's cinematographer since Blood Work (2002), like Eastwood's direction, it's focused and to the point, and you feel the claustrophobia of being caught up in tense situations and under fire from enemy troops. Eastwood's longtime editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach capture the tension in the wartorn Iraq, and keep it focused and together when Chris is back home stateside, especially when he's struggling to adapt to civilian life. The set design by Charisse Cardenas and James J. Murakami really comes into it's own when we see the war torn Fallujah, which was actually all done in California in Santa Clarita and an abandoned milk factory in El Centro, the latter of which comes into it's own with the climactic battle.

American Sniper has a very small but focused cast, and it's led by Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle. Kyle was a gentleman, always calling older gentlemen, especially his father, as sir. When he joins the Navy SEALS, it shapes him up even more. In war, Kyle is a man just doing his job, but it affects him, especially when he has to kill women and children, which he doesn't want to do, but he has to in order to protect his fellow troops. But this affects him, and when he gets back to America, he suffers post traumatic stress, and it's the littlest things that set him off, a lawnmower going next door or a power drill at the local garage, it brings back the awful memories of what he saw in Iraq, and he has to keep going back. Cooper excels as playing Kyle, it's a focused and gripping central performance, and it's a transformation we see throughout the film, and Cooper bulked up to play Kyle and he certainly looks the part. It's certainly not an ensemble piece, this film is a very intimate and very harrowing character study of what war can do to men, and how it can tip them over the edge, and beyond the point of no return, as people who know the outcome of the film will sadly know. Sienna Miller gives a sensitive and caring turn as Kyle's beloved wife Taya, who just wanted her husband to stay at home and be a family man with their children when he came home from war, and despite Kyle going back to Iraq more than once, she stood by him, and supported him. Even when he came home for good.





This is a very anti-war film, and it makes a good companion piece with The Hurt Locker (2008), which also showed men in a dangerous land just doing their jobs. American Sniper shows the real cost of war, and the real casualties of war are the families these men leave behind. But every country will always need armed forces to defend themselves from the insurgent psychopaths that we see Kyle and his fellow troops up against in the film. If there was ever a film to convince people not to join up to the Army or Navy, it's this film. American Sniper is heartbreaking as well, but it's easy to see why it's been so successful, especially in America, where as of February 2015, it's become the highest grossing war film of all time. It's tapped into the public conscience, and it hits home hard. This is a war film where there are no winners, even when the troops come home, the war isn't over, many troops and ex-servicemen are still fighting a war in their souls, to readjust back to home life, and go back from killing machines to normal men. A lot of war films from Hollywood come across as jingoistic and make a case for America's Foreign Policy, however this is case against, politicians are so focused on protecting their own country, they lose sight of the human factor. In this case, Chris Kyle. It's a tragic tale, but Eastwood tells it with passion and a hint of anger, he's gone Kyle justice, and hopefully, it'll make America think twice before blinding invading countries willy-nilly. Or then again, maybe not.
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