Opening with life or death choices no-one should be faced with. Even worse for those choices to be subject to review by superiors deciding whether you remain a hero or war criminal, all from the safety of base camp.
This is how we are introduced to Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), legendary sniper during the recent Iraq campaign, “credited” with some 160 plus confirmed kills.
Kyle starts out as a casual rodeo rider, with equally casual female acquaintances drifting through life as a post modern cowboy, only spurred into patriotic action following overseas terrorist atrocities and the final catalyst, 9-11.
The film then follows Kyle through the usual training montage and romantic settling down before he ships out on his first tour to Iraq. Kyle proves to be a good shot, acting as an angel of death upon the rooftops, ensuring his squad buddies conducting house to house searches below, are kept relatively free of mortal danger.
If this protection involves killing men, women or children, if they represent clear and present danger to the troops then, so be it.
The film portrays this complex war simplistically, largely through the apparent recollections of Kyle (based on his book). Put simply, bad people will kill or maim his friends, therefore he will attempt to stop them. Whether this approach is a convenience for both himself and the film, cannot realistically be discussed in a short review.
Whilst the moral complexities and resultant impact upon Kyle’s home life are explored, why the troops are there, what motivates those lined up to kill them is largely ignored. Arguably a wise decision, bearing in mind how divisive such a different film would become.
The film therefore largely avoids the political and media related IED’s laying in wait for such a film but still manages to convey some of the horrors of such a messy conflict. A war where good and bad terminology cannot be applied to a campaign that exists in infinite grey.
To those on the ground, none of this matters, kill or be killed, survive or not is the only mantra.
Cooper has piled on the pounds and muscle to play this part and does so quite brilliantly, apparently unnervingly so to Kyle’s real life wife. Sienna Miller does a fine job of the “wife at home” role and the film alludes to the long term after effects that echo even when the tours come to an end.
Director Clint Eastwood handles the film in a competent matter of fact manner, never resorting to cheap effects or glorified camera angles. The ending may or may not be known to you dependant on your news awareness but is handled with some sensitivity here.
A good story well told. Whatever your views on celebrating a man that has killed so many, for reasons both good and bad, this is a well made film that deserves two hours of your time.
Whilst not shirking the moral ambiguity, the director has wisely steered well clear of any political leanings apart from the usual occasional American flag waving, which to be fair is used sparingly and not out of context.