Let me just get the cinema bit out of the way first by saying this: Stratford Picture House is a bit of a dump. With very small, uncomfortable and stained seats. The whole building feels like a cheaply done-up sixth form college, and the treats on offer (obviously film food is very important to me) were but average. It felt like my local Odeon but calling itself a Picture House allows it to charge much more. It was certainly not the best film viewing experience. C’mon Stratford PH, up your game!!
Ok, film time.
AMERICAN SNIPER, out on Friday, is an entirely gripping biographical film about US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film takes its story from Kyle’s autobiography of the same name. It follows his life from rodeo wannabe in Texas, to proclaimed lethal sniper in the Iraq War with 160 confirmed kills.
We are plunged straight into the terrors of war in the very first sequences. Close-ups of Bradley Cooper’s strained and concentrating face fill the screen as we learn the decision Chris Kyle is grappling with; kill a civilian child carrying an explosive, or let American troops die. This moral conflict is what sets the tone of the movie.
You may assume that this is simply another American war drama, depicting the brown people as the evil terrorist enemy, and America as the saint-like hero but this is not always the case in this film. Whilst we do see America as a nation ‘winning’ this war and hunting down the enemy, rival sniper ‘The Butcher’, we also see the devastating effects it has on Iraq and back in the States. Each frame of this film is a reminder of the traumas both Americans and Iraqis went through because of this war. From TV screens filled with news-reels of 9/11 attacks, to entire cities evacuated and destroyed in Iraq. There may be a clear enemy, but it seems as if everyone is losing. Undeniably the main character of this film is not Chris Kyle, but the war itself.
Eastwood is back to his best with AMERICAN SNIPER, after a few disappointing films the last few years (JERSEY BOYS ahem..) this film will likely be remembered as one of his greats. Cooper is truly great in this role, the physical changes he put his body through to perform this role are evident (his thighs in tiny beige army-regulation shorts is reason enough to see this film) but also his mental grasp of the characters psyche helps to cement the realism into the heart of his performance. Sienna Miller proves her worth as Kyle’s wife in what, I would say, is her best role ever (mainly because all her other roles have been absolutely pants). We see their life together in short bursts between tours, from meeting, to marriage, baby and then another. We see Kyle struggling to connect with his family life when back home. Eastwood is making a point: War is all consuming.
Despite everyone referring to Kyle as ‘the legend’ for the accuracy and frequency of his kills, his own self-doubt in what he is doing prevents the film from glorifying American involvement in the war, this is about the external tragedy’s that war causes. How war can change people, can shock you. It’s both visually and emotionally visceral.
As well as seeing the tough choices Kyle has to make during each of his tours, we see the feelings he is having and the choices he is making back at home. Audiences watch woefully as his internal conflict boils up inside of him. We see as his mind tries to understand if what he is doing is right or not. Whether he is the good guy, like everyone else thinks, or the bad guy. He sits in an office of the Veterans centre saying he doesn’t think about all people he killed, simply that he is “haunted by all the guys he couldn’t save” but Cooper’s expression certainly tells a different story. The effect of war on civilians, on loved ones is poured onto the screen, as well as the effect on the soldiers themselves in the form of PTSD, sadly a condition under-treated and often ignored.
If you haven’t already read about Chris Kyle’s life I would recommend waiting until after seeing the film so as not to take away from Eastwood’s superb storytelling. But I will say, the last 8 minutes will open your mind, and break your heart.