American Sniper is a perfectly fine, well-acted, and well paced rendering of the story of American Iraq vet Chris Kyle, but one that really doesn't tell us much of anything about Kyle, war, Iraq or the trauma that returning vets face when they come home from a life far removed from anything they've lived every day of their tours.
What we do get in this film is a great performance from Bradley Cooper, who really stretched himself to inhabit the mind of this Texas cowboy who signed up for military duty because he wanted to lay his life on the line for his country. The role doesn't dig deep into Kyle's mindset (which is too bad because as the supposed deadliest sniper in U.S. history, it was probably a mind worth exploring in a far more introspective manner), but Cooper embodies his attitude and the way he carries himself so well, and it's such a turnaround from other roles he's played recently, that he elevates the material far beyond what's actually on the page.
The script is pretty rote, as it quickly shows us a scene from Kyle's upbringing by a macho, physically intimidating father who teaches his son it's okay to bully the "bad guys," leading to Kyle as an adult who's quick to confrontation and manages to channel that tendency to good use by joining the U.S. SEAL program. Then he meets his future wife in a bar (Sienna Miller), falls in love, and is sent to Iraq to avenge 9/11 (the movie sticks with the old party line about Iraq having a direct connection to the 2001 terrorist attacks, which is apparently still something a lot of people believe, and Clint Eastwood doesn't care, or is just too lazy, to correct). Kyle serves an unbelievable four tours in the country, where he racked up his estimated 160 kills, more than any other in American history. However fine the war scenes are shot though (you have to be slightly impressed with an 84-year-old Eastwood still having the wherewithal to give us the visceral action that he does here), my problem with all of this is that there's nothing new about any of it. Watching American Sniper is kind of like watching a cross between Coming Home and The Hurt Locker, but not as fresh or as interesting as either one of them.
Many of the long drawn out action scenes veer into dull territory, reminiscent of those first person shooter video games, which I suspect may be a solid chunk of the audience that turned out for this over the weekend. The drama on the homefront is old-fashioned and predictable, with poor Sienna Miller saddled with the absolutely thankless role of the long-suffering, occasionally pregnant wife who does nothing but cry and ask Chris when he's coming back, needling him to be "there" when he is home, and the movie hints at Chris's post-traumatic stress when in between tours, but never bothers to dive deeper than surface level, except what you might be able to discern from Cooper's excellent and shaded performance. He hints at depth in this guy that the script does not provide. The basic message of the film seems to be that war is hell- yet how many movies have we seen that in over the years? This one feels redundant and unnecessary, despite the slick professionalism in the way it's translated to the screen.