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Cinema Signal: A glaring green light for the writing, directing and most of all an eye-opening performance. MOBILE version |
. "American Sniper"

There are several filmmakers who have a particular penchant for stories that center around a powerful male hero. Michael Mann ("Manhunter"), John Milius, ("Dillinger,") and Oliver Stone ("JFK," "J. Edgar") come to mind.

Of course, another director who often steps into this auteurial groove, is Clint Eastwood ("Unforgiven") who has brilliantly brought forth a jarring and gripping example of the commanding figure in a film adapted from the autobiography of the greatest sharp shooter in American military history, Chris Kyle.

The Navy Seal Team leader was gutsy and charismatic besides turning in the most sniper kills on record (the Pentagon confirms more than 150). But the story is as much about the re-adaptation to civilian life after he leaves the battlefield.

The idea to make the film with these themes was brought to Eastwood by an actor to whom this was a personal project about which he was passionate.

The actor, namely Bradley Cooper, got commercially hot enough off a string of successes ("Silver Lining Playbook," the "Hangover" series, "American Hustle") to be taken very seriously in a quest for the funding and the green light despite the fact that none of his amazing credits would suggest he could meet the level of machismo and ferocity the part called for.

The collaboration, I daresay, will be admired by military men for a very long time besides adding a notch in Eastwood's meritorious filmology. I imagine Eastwood's mentor Sergio Leone would be impressed.

After meeting Taya Renae (Sienna Miller, "Stardust") in a bar, the always confident Kyle (Cooper) is smitten and pushes his charm through her barriers against overweening "Seals" who think so much of themselves... and taking her to the altar. he's off to a Special Ops mission in Falluja, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. There, he'll meet destiny with what he can do with a rifle.

Kyle is a man with the skill and steadiness not only to hit his target from tremendous distances, but to do so in time to save his comrades. His basic moral decency is also hammered home when he holds his trigger upon spotting a young Iraqi boy picking up an APG, putting his men in mortal danger.

From his troops and superiors, his exploits earn thanks, idolization, the term "Legend" and the enemy's price on his head. Adulation and the praise of his buddies works on him like a drug, feeding his underlying determination to render payback for 9/11. It becomes his calling as the battlefield feels more like where he belongs than the home his cherished family occupies.

When he finally does return to that home after four tours of duty, his adjustment is a pitiable one. Fears and memories of battle are still vivid, impossible to purge from his mind. He's still that soldier, dealing with a hostile enemy, the terror of leading his men to clear buildings where ambush is ever possible, and working to dispatch enough insurgents to save the lives of his men.

The second purpose of Kyle's memoire is bringing our attention to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) a syndrome that has struck veterans after years of fighting. It's been analyzed so much in the press that the trick for the filmmaker here is to avoid the feeling of cliche' or falling into a drill on the subject. Eastwood, with the excellence of his cast, writing and gripping combat action that is a marvel of editing and precision, keeps it real and dodges these issues.

Miller, is the emotional cornerstone who finds herself married to a warrior who can't quit. She's tested until communication amounts to brief phone calls, turning her (justifiably) into a griping wife, threatening to leave with the children.

But, it's not all mirthless dedication. Cooper shows many of the qualities we've known him for, with charm (not only in the bar scene) and playful demeanor, when he gets a chance. Eastwood and his screenwriters take advantage of their player's dimensions to humanize the wardaddy. Yet, they maintain a certain innocent naivete' about the man.

Pacing is tight and fire fights have the feel of terror and realism. Episodes of clearing buildings that could contain hidden AK-47 bearing jihadis around any corner, where a single mistake could be a mortal one, is as good as this subject's action gets.

Eastwood's visual plan for the movie is carried out by his loyal Director of Photography Tom Stern, with a dual look: the desaturation of color to a virtual duotone on the browns of the desert while in country; contrasting against the normal color pallette that seems almost Disneyish when Kyle's at home. This proves thematically supportive, as does Eastwood's score.

As for very hard-working Cooper, making this an homage to a lost warrior, well, an Oscar nomination would seem to be a bullseye.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Bradley Cooper as title character Chris Kyle
A demanding performance unlike any role the actor has done before.

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