Friday, January 16, 2015


American Sniper

American Sniper official site The recent Veterans Affairs (VA) scandal drew much deserved attention about the wellbeing of veterans who many suffer posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning home from the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. A celebrated Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was one of these veterans. During his four tours of duty in the Iraq War, Chris is credited for 160 confirmed kills as a sniper. After he returned home, in dealing with war's effects upon him, he wrote a bestselling autobiography and dedicated himself to helping other veterans. Based on the book, director Clint Eastwood transforms Chris 's war story to the big screen in "American Sniper" (USA 2015 | 132 min.). Despite a fine performance that earned the buffed-up Bradley Cooper a third Oscar nomination in three consecutive years, the film falls short on the expectation about its emotional heft given the gravity of this true story.

Growing up in religious and gun-loving Texas, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is taught by his father that people in the world can be classified as sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. He naturally assumes the role of a sheepdog. Realizing that being a cowboy doesn't seem to get him too far for that role, he joins the Navy SEALs.

Between his intense SEAL training, Chris meets a young woman Sienna Miller (Taya Kyle) during a bar outing. He quickly wins Sienna over with his charm and they get married. Once he is deployed to Iraq, their connection can only rely on the phone conversations, which are often cut by intense gun battles in a war zone.

Chris is extremely good at what he does. He takes out of enemies with incredible precision and earns himself a nickname "Legend" among soldiers. However, the war also has a tremendous impact on him. He withdraws from his family and lives in a war zone even when he is at home. Despite the plea from Sienna asking him to stay, he returns back to Iraq not once or twice, but three times.

American Sniper Official Site

Being a legendary director, Clint Eastwood is savvy in telling war stories and waving guns in his films. It's admirable for him not only showing us how Chris shoots in the war, but also how he struggles when he returns home. The film shows the enemies are destroyed by a superb sniper and his fellow soldiers, it also demonstrates that the war damages the body and mind of US soldiers as well.

The film dramatically simplifies the moral complexity of a war similar to how Chris is taught by his farther to view the world: there is evil out there, and Chris feels obligated to be a sheepdog to protect his fellow soldiers. That also appears to be his motivation to go back to Iraq repeatedly, because he cannot get over with the trauma of how his comrades were killed or injured. But what if these soldiers were not in Iraq at the first place? Would Chris be a carefree cowboy until today?

The film could have gone deeper about the war, the US soldiers, the soldiers' families, and the enemies. Instead, we can barely remember the names of other characters, and Sienna is conveniently put on the screen only when she is needed.

While many of the battle scenes are superbly constructed, but they are often less convincing. For example, the opening scene shows a woman and a child come out of a house while Chris is aiming at them. Then the woman openly hands over the child a giant grenade and provokes Chris to take action. Obviously the dramatic scene is setup for the audience, otherwise the kid would have come out the house with the weapon already under his clothes. Also, why does Sienna always manage to pick up the worst moment to chit-chat with Chris?

There is no doubt that Chris was an extraordinary war-hero. Unfortunately, we are unable to get to know him better through this film.

"American Sniper," a Warner Bros. Pictures release, opens on Friday, January 16, 2015 in San Francisco Bay Area.

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