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Eastwood paints chilling war picture in ‘Sniper’

By Andrew Fishman / Staff Writer

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“American Sniper”

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout, including some sexual references

Grade: A

After Chris Kyle finds out, on his wedding day, that he’ll be shipped out to Iraq, he assures his wife that “it’s all part of the plan, baby.” Little did he know, this plan would make him the deadliest sniper in American history.

Bradley Cooper, in an Oscar-nominated role, plays Navy SEAL Kyle, a man who served for 10 years, amassing four tours, during the peak of the Iraq War. Over that span, Kyle accumulated 160 confirmed kills out of 255 probable kills. 

“American Sniper” begins where its trailer does — ,Kyle must decide if an Iraqi woman and her young son pose enough of a threat to be killed. As we watch the woman hand off an RKG grenade to the young boy, Kyle realizes what he must do. 

At this moment, the scene cuts back to the life of a young Kyle, showing us signs of his hard-headed upbringing with a father who encourages fighting with other boys and takes his sons hunting. The flashbacks continue chronologically, moving to scenes of Kyle’s cowboy days, how he decided to become a Navy SEAL, how he met his future wife as well as real footage of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, giving the audience a context of time. 

We’re suddenly, but not too abruptly, thrust back to the scene with the bomb-wielding little boy and, by now, have realized that this will be the first of his many kills. He soon begins killing with less hesitancy and develops a reputation and nickname of “Legend.” As Kyle’s time in Iraq continues, and his legendary status proliferates, so do the realities and hardships of war. 

Director Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby,” “Gran Torino”) does a masterful job of showing these realities without painting them as too over-the-top or blunt. The film alternates between Kyle’s four tours and his time at home in between, each visit home showing his progression — or, rather, regression — because of the violence he experiences. 

These scenes are driven by Kyle’s wife Taya (an electric, emotional Sienna Miller), who sees the differences in her husband more than anyone. When she entertains the idea of coming home for good after their first child is born, Kyle stands by his duty to his country. “You have to be here for us,” she retorts. 

Instead of confronting this emotional struggle, Kyle buries his problems behind a thick beard and dark-framed sunglasses, continuing to pretend that everything is OK. 

Any war film walks a thin line between portraying the reality of war and portraying an overly dramatic, shooting-heavy, exaggeration of action. While “American Sniper” had its violent moments, Eastwood succeeded in the former, with bracing, realistic scenes of the intensity of wartime — probably since the film was based on Kyle’s autobiography of the same name.

Eastwood’s greatest accomplishment is his portrayal of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Handled delicately and with subtle portrayals, Eastwood’s direction and Cooper’s performance powerfully show the audience what it’s like to suffer from PTSD. 

Two scenes in particular achieved this chilling effect: Kyle sitting in front of his turned-off television, staring into it as we privily hear inside his head — bullets whizzing and buildings exploding. In another instance, Kyle almost attacks the family dog for playing around with his son before his wife snaps him out of his confused state. 

The film’s cinematography is equally as effective as Eastwood’s portrayal of wartime themes. Fascinating shots ranged from a peek through Kyle’s sniper lens and intense close-ups depicting raw emotion to extreme long shots from the eyes of helicopter pilots.

Since “Sniper” is based on the true story of an American soldier, some viewers may have knowledge of how Kyle’s story tragically ends. The film’s conclusion is a perfect combination of respect, emotion, shock and cinematic expertise that even those who know Kyle’s full story will sit with mouths agape, chills up their spines and, perhaps, a tissue in hand.

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Eastwood paints chilling war picture in ‘Sniper’