It took me a little while to get in to this film and indeed even at the end I was trying to rate it, my initial score now seems harsh after some time to digest the film. Having read some of what has been written about the movie I was interested to see what it would come out like. What I got was in some way a movie which is very different from much of what Clint Eastwood has produced previously, while at the same time very much the same. The cinema style is different , the wide airy shots are replaced by close-up almost claustrophobic scenes, smooth flowing scenes are replaced by the ragged, clipped fight scenes and tension . There is some of this also to be seen in his earlier work Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) with its own stylization and the telling of the story trough the person of and his men even down to their dysentery.
Whatever of the style, the sense of detail is still there, we see this from the start. While competing in a local rodeo event he hurts is hand and in the shots that follow we see him use an ice bag. Seeing this I wondered if it would have an impact of the story; no, it was just how Eastwood details a film. The initial story-line may seem different from much of what else Eastwood has done, but at closer inspection it is much in line with previous efforts.
We are told a story about a young man who has a gift, a gift which he knows comes with responsibility and must be controlled. The film is based on the book by Chris Kyle and co-written by Scott McEwen and James Defelice, with Jason Hall writing the screenplay. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, 2012), play the part of Chris Kyle. WE quickly learn that Chris was brought-up with a string sense of justice and the need to protect the weak “the sheep” from the “wolves”. After floating about as a “cowboy” in his native Texas he realises there is something more to life and he want to do something with his life so after seeing the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the news he decides to sign-up. Joining the Navy SEALs he discovers and develops his skill as a sniper.
From the start of his mission we see a man willing to use the great power he has to kill, but only if he has to. Will he shoot a child or mother? What is their risk. Not long after deploying we learn that there is an Iraqi sniper, Mustafa (Samy Sheik, Lone Survivor, 2013) a Jordanian mercenary fighter who is killing US troops and it soon becomes a recurring theme of his time in Iraq, the hunt for his nemesis. Cooper’s character is haunted by the need to do something, to contribute, this is a driver which we see he takes home with him and it is on his return from his first tour that he meets Taya (Sienna Miller, Foxcatcher 2014) with whom he quickly develops a relationship and marries.
As the movie progresses through his tours we begin to see the personal effect on him and the troops around him. Returning to his second tour, he meets his brother, Jeff also deployed. Jeff is a shadow of his former self, clearly shaken to the core by what he has witnessed. There is a certain shock to Kyle in this. As the years progress and we see his life punctuated by tours of duty and spells home the pressures mount. He is a person still struggling. He is driven by an absolute certainty and any diminishing of this certainty will cause a person to question themselves, what they are doing and ultimate lose their focus and concentration, ultimately paying the price for such with their lives. He feels comfortable back “in country”, there is a certainty to what he is doing.
While home he cannot shake the effects of Iraq. Cars are watched in case they are following him. The attitudes of people back home acting as if nothing is happening all weigh on him. On his last tour he recognises the self-doubt and exhaustion he has seen in others, in himself; it is time to get out. When he eventually leaves we see how he has difficulty adapting back to civilian life until he finds his calling helping other returned veterans, those with physical and mental injuries arising out of their time in Iraq. Indeed this is the last thing we see of him is preparing for another day’s journey, this time with another veteran, presumably Eddie Ray Roth . The last scene being his funeral scenes, returning his body home.
This is very much in the tradition of Eastwood’s movies; we see a young talented individual lost but with a gift that can allow them to find meaning and direction in the world. As with many gifts there is a price to pay, often a deep personal one.
This as it turns out is an excellent movie and the first time I have been able to watch Bradley Cooper in a role without wanting to leave the movie early. You will either love or have this movie. Is it the 4 or 5 star production many say it is, I am not sure. It is certainly a 3star and possible a 4 grade movie. Watch it, it is a cut above the rest and really focuses on the personal aspects of the conflict.