American Sniper has come to be a controversial film with both sides of the political aisle citing the film as either representing or misrepresenting the film’s real-life counterpart, Chris Kyle. One can also make the argument that viewing this film without some form of bias is a difficult achievement in itself due to the graphic nature of the film. Yet what American Sniper does not aim to do is represent itself as a film that appeals to, for a lack of a better term, a single target audience. Instead, due to Clint Eastwood’s careful direction, the film presents itself in a literal format, leaving the viewers to decide for themselves whether the content of the film is justified or not. Chris Kyle famously said about his military career, “I had to do it to protect Marines,” which emphasized a clear conscience on his part and this movie is by no means him attempting to justify his actions. Considering Chris Kyle’s belief in his military career, Clint Eastwood has made this film as a mere biopic, rather than a propaganda piece that would appeal to a particular side of the political spectrum.
When observing the film in a literal, biopic platform that is separated from political ideology, one must acknowledge the level of realism this film presents to viewers. This style of filmmaking isn’t necessarily a new craft for Eastwood, considering his double-wartime films he directed and produced in 2006: Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. When Eastwood directed both these films, showing the hardships of both the American and the Japanese soldiers during World-War-Two, he showed a neutral level of respect and brutality amongst both sides. While particular scenes were difficult to swallow or acknowledge as truths, they were still filmed with a level of realism. Eastwood does not deviate from this style of filmmaking with American Sniper. To a degree, American Sniper is more about the sacrifice and camaraderie of the American military than it is about Chris Kyle. While the film centers upon him and his career, the true storyline of the film is the degree of brotherhood of those who went to Iraq, who strived to achieve their mission and subsequently survived together when the possibility of death occurred. By that rationale, Chris Kyle’s character within the film functions as both a literal and metaphorical figure of the hardships of the many military groups. To a capacity, this formulates the reminder that supporting this country’s troops shouldn’t ever be contemplated, which is the closest Eastwood goes to making a political statement within this film.
That doesn’t go to say that the film doesn’t take certain creative liberties that cause viewers to question how much has Hollywood exaggerated the true-life scenarios the film represents. One particular motif the film has is the communication between Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle and his on-screen wife, Taya Kyle (Sienna Miller), who both talk freely via satellite phone while he is touring in Iraq. Scenes with him and his team taking fire while she is helplessly listening on the phone are instances where the viewer has to challenge the integrity of the film. Another example is near the climax of the film, in the midst of a firefight, Kyle contacts his wife almost without issue, and emotionally declares, “I’m ready to come home.” While Eastwood may have intended for this scene to jerk at one’s heartstrings, instead it diminishes the realism of the film and opens itself to be deemed as a “Hollywood film.” In contrast to other Iraq films, most notably 2008’s Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, there is a profound level of realism with soldiers and their being seemingly detached from the rest of the world. In such films, these characters have only their group to depend upon emotionally and never have the ability to freely contact their home. This creates a sense of isolation and borderline despair, which is never truly felt in American Sniper. Chris Kyle’s easy access to communicating with his family subtracts from the isolation and continuous sense of fear one would feel in a country that is foreign to them.
Yet the film’s one attribute that stands above everything else is Bradley Cooper’s astounding performance as Chris Kyle. He provides a tremendous level of respect to the real-life counterpart while never demanding to viewers that they view him in the same manner he does. In that regard, Cooper took on the mindset and motivations of Chris Kyle and transformed himself into the real-life individual. His performance isn’t overtly showy, but it is laced with subtlety. Cooper is able to convey sheer determination, professionalism, internalized conflict, compassion, while also exhibiting signs of PTSD throughout his performance. Cooper also is able to provide a blatant difference in his character’s scope of emotions between being in Iraq with his team in comparison to being home in Texas with his wife and kids being his only companions. Most importantly, Cooper never once crafts the character to be pitied or to be glorified. Instead, he portrays Chris Kyle as an average American, who happened to be a tremendous marksman, who also chose to serve his country in Iraq. By doing that, viewers can watch the performance and find admiration in at least Cooper’s portrayal, which is a complete deviation from his prior film work. The role may seem to some like any other military performance, but the biggest achievement Cooper is able to do with his performance of Chris Kyle is maintaining realism with the character and avoid exaggerating the performance. It is primarily due to Cooper’s performance that American Sniper is a successful feat of filmmaking. Without his powerhouse performance, it is possible this film wouldn’t even be talked about.