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American Sniper (AF)


Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Kevin Lacz, Navid Negahban, Keir O'Donnell, L:uke Sunshine, Troy Vincent

Director: Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood is something of a nightmare to devoted directorial auteurists since, instead of employing the usual ‘look at me’ tropes so beloved of directors who believe, rather than their subjects and their actors are the stars of their films, he always insists on directing the story instead of showing off.

Which, for my money (and he’s one of the very few filmmakers whose work I would be happy to pay to see), makes Eastwood the best living American filmmaker. It’s hard to think of any other mainstream Hollywood director who could have made so impactful a Japanese-dialogue movie as Letters from Iwo Jima.

Eastwood’s skill at storytelling is eminently well demonstrated here. There are no cute camera flourishes or any scenes that waste time and film. He delivers a powerful biopic of an unlikely American hero without dramatic longueurs.

Once American Sniper began, I was held from from start to finish. And, unusually, Eastwood convinced me that the all-too-frequently fantasised category ‘Based on a true story’ was largely true.

The strong screenplay by actor-turned-writer Jason Hall, based on the best-selling book by its subject, American hero Chris Kyle, along with Scott McEwen and James Defelice, provides Bradley Copper (also doubling as a producer) with one of his best roles as the eponymous sniper.

Eastwood effectively charts Kyle’s early life when, after being bullied at school, his father rouses him and his younger brother to fight for themselves, reminding them that, “we protect our own”. The brothers, now young men, become aspiring rodeo stars.

Kyle, catalyzed by seeing on television the horrors of the terrorist attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, joins the US Navy SEALS. Eastwood’s depiction of the brutal toughening up of the wannabe SEALS is extraordinarily compelling. He meets his future wife (an excellent portrayal by Sienna Miller that compensates for her almost pointless appearance in ‘Foxcatcher’) and, after 9/11, is sent to Iraq where his shooting skills establish him as the title character who, with a score of some 190 targets achieved, became America’s greatest sharpshooter…

Cooper, who gained weight and sports a beard to play Kyle, gives one of his finest portrayals and makes you believe in the character and not the actor playing him. His explanation “I was just protecting my guys, they were trying to kill... our soldiers and I... I'm willing to meet my Creator and answer for every shot that I took” rings true and adds valuable force to the characterisation.

As usual, Eastwood doesn’t bother with the usual Hollywood self-back-patting opening credit “A Clint Eastwood Film’. And he doesn’t need to. This is as fine a combat–biopic as you could hope to see,

Alan Frank

USA 2014. UK Distributor: Warner. Colour.
132 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 18 Jan 2015