U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) takes his sole mission—protect his comrades—to heart and becomes one of the most lethal snipers in American history. His pinpoint accuracy not only saves countless lives but also makes him a prime target of insurgents. Despite grave danger and his struggle to be a good husband and father to his family back in the States, Kyle serves four tours of duty in Iraq. However, when he finally returns home, he finds that he cannot leave the war behind.
The real story of Chris Kyle, US Navy Seal and sniper, is remarkable. He was credited with 160 kills in the Iraq War, more than any sniper in US military history. In Clint Eastwood’s depiction this is a man with strong moral convictions, who believes he is defending his country and shows no regret as he skilfully picks off militant after militant who present a threat to his colleagues.
The film is about Kyle, not about the larger conflict, and so does not attempt to paint a broader picture about the Iraq War or offer any commentary on it. Instead there are plenty of close-ups of Bradley Cooper as he takes aim, intercut with scenes back at home in between tours of duty with his wife Sienna Miller. As Kyle’s body count mounts he starts to lose his humanity and grip on his marriage, volunteering for additional tours of duty even as it becomes clear that he is needed by his family and that he risks losing them by returning to the theatre of war, which is where he truly feels at home.
The stateside scenes are quite well played, and Sienna Miller shows previously hidden depths as an actress, but the emphasis here is at the expense of building up background with Kyle’s colleagues, who remain stereotypes. If one is killed or injured we care little since we have not engaged with them as characters. The film’s strength is a lack of moralising, but by spending so much effort on the relationship between Kyle and his wife the rest is relegated to a series of shootings, almost like an arcade game. A supposed rivalry between Kyle and the top Iraqi sniper never really works, as the latter is just an elusive figure in the distance, another figure in a gun sight.
For me the film lacks the drama of “The Hurt Locker”, its observation of Kyle’s gradual loss of humanity too closely mirrored by the direction of the movie, which fails to build up enough empathy for its characters for us to really care about their fate. 61/0