I must say, 2014 has been a banner year for the biopic genre as this past year has given us some truly fantastic films that have shed the light on some fascinating true stories. In ‘The Theory of Everything’, we saw the touching romance between Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde who stood by each other through thick and thin. In ‘The Imitation Game’, we learned of the tragic fall from grace of Alan Turing despite his significant contributions to computing. And in ‘Selma’, we viewed the emotionally powerful tale of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. And now yet another excellent addition to 2014’s group of biopics comes in the form of ‘American Sniper’, the second film of the year from director Clint Eastwood after last summer’s ‘Jersey Boys’ (which was also technically a ‘biopic’ but a primarily dramatized one that was based on the Broadway musical of the same name). This film is the true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who became known as ‘The Legend’ having been credited with more than 160 kills, making him the deadliest marksman in the history of the U.S. Military. This film explores both Kyle’s career with the military while also his struggles to deal with life away from war while he’s back home with his family. Featuring superb performances from its two leads and excellent direction from Eastwood, ‘American Sniper’ is easily one of the best films of 2014 as it explores the life of this fascinating soldier who always served his country up until the very end (Kyle was tragically killed in February 2013).
Raised up in Texas on the moral code of ‘always being a sheepdog and protecting others’ by his father, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), after initially working as a rodeo cowboy, enlists into the U.S. Navy’s SEAL program following the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. After marrying Taya (Sienna Miller), who he meets at a bar while he is in training, Chris is quickly deployed to Iraq following the 9/11 attacks and immediately makes a name for himself as a master sniper as he makes numerous kills to the point where his fellow soldiers give him the nickname of ‘The Legend’. On the battlefield, Chris and his fellow SEALs seek to take down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a key commander of Al-Qaeda. But at the same time, the film also explores Kyle’s struggles to return back to his normal life whenever he returns home from a tour of duty. Despite all of his efforts to be both a loving husband to Taya and father to their two kids, Chris finds that he is unable to leave the war behind and as a result, he starts to become somewhat detached from his family as he ends up going through four tours of duty in Iraq despite Taya’s pleads for him to stay with their family due to him being away from them for so long.
I’m guessing that, because this film is titled ‘American Sniper’, some will be heading into this film thinking that it’s just going to be an action film centered on a badass sniper. And while it’s true that Kyle’s achievements as a sniper are undeniably fascinating (including a kill from over 2,100 yards away, which isn’t shown in the film for the record, though a similar long distance kill is shown), that’s not what this movie is all about. It’s more about Kyle as a person and with that said, he is a truly fascinating figure. He’s definitely likable as shown from how we see him when he’s with his family and when he’s bonding with his fellow soldiers. There are definitely times where, back home from war, he displays signs of PTSD like many other soldiers would due to all they went through during the war. The most interesting aspect of Kyle, however, is how patriotic he is. It is this patriotism that compels him to go on four tours despite the fact that he was spending more and more time away from his family. Whenever a terrible act is committed against America, he’s shown to be extremely pissed off about it (after all, it was an act of terrorism that got him into the military in the first place) and it’s also shown that he shows quite a lot of regret whenever one of his fellow soldiers is killed in battle. That’s ultimately why he kept going back into war because he wanted to help keep his fellow soldiers alive and overall the film does a great job at exploring all of these elements of Kyle’s life. And while I did say that the film does focus more on Kyle’s character than the action, the action sequences in the film are really good, especially the epic finale that takes place in the middle of a sandstorm.
Bradley Cooper easily gives not only one of the best performances of this past year (more than deserving of his recent Oscar nomination for Best Actor), but also arguably the best performance of his entire career to date as Chris Kyle. He bulked up to the point where he was quite unrecognizable in order for him to play the role and he does a perfect job in capturing Kyle’s patriotism, his composure in battle, and his emotional turmoil back home. But equally great here is Sienna Miller as Taya in what is also arguably her best performance to date. While the film does focus more on Chris than her, we do see how much of an impact that this war and Chris’ involvement in it is having on her. Obviously she must have been constantly worried about Chris while he was out on tour and was dreading the possibility of being told that he died in combat. And while he may not have died while away on tour, I’m certain that we’d all be going through what she went through if we were in her situation. Scenes like the ones where she loses contact with Chris when he suddenly gets into a firefight and when she pleads with him not to go out on a fourth tour of duty are extremely heartbreaking and just like how Cooper does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of Chris Kyle, Miller too does a fantastic job at conveying Taya’s emotions and the turmoil that she went through while waiting for Chris to come home. Plus, Cooper and Miller have exceptional romantic chemistry which makes Chris and Taya’s relationship all the more compelling.
I was immediately hooked by ‘American Sniper’ and was fully engaged from beginning to end as we got to explore the fascinating life of Chris Kyle as he went through four tours of duty becoming the most deadly marksman in U.S. Military history. Obviously his accomplishments in battle are impressive enough but then you also factor in how hard it must have been like for him to not be helping his fellow soldiers whenever he’s back home, showing that war will leave a major impact on you up until the very end. Not only that, but the film does a great job at showing how much this is affecting not just Chris, but also his wife Taya as we see her struggling to deal with having Chris being away for so long and in constant danger. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller do absolutely fantastic jobs as Chris and Taya Kyle, respectively, and the direction from Clint Eastwood is both focused and 100% respectful of Chris Kyle’s life story. This is easily Eastwood’s best film in recent years as a director as he shows that he is still a force to be reckoned with as a director even though he’s now 84 years old. In short, ‘American Sniper’ is both one of the best biopics of 2014 (a year that has seen plenty other great biopics as well) and one of the best films of 2014 as it does true justice to its main subject.
R.I.P. Chris Kyle: 1974-2013: I dedicate my review to him, ‘The Legend’