American Sniper
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Chris Kyle is brought up by his father as a good Christian and a good patriot. After seeing the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and Tanzania, he enlists in the Navy Seals. Thanks to his extraordinary aim, he becomes a sniper, responsible for protecting the ground troops in Iraq. Through various missions, totaling 1,000 days abroad, he becomes the deadliest sniper in the American army— a legend for his people, and a privileged target for his enemies. Such great acts of violence— both performed and suffered— have put Chris’ marriage to Taya on the line, forcing him to find an alternative way to serve his country and his fellow soldiers

Chris Kyle’s story embodies the contradictions and the greatness of the American nation. Kyle, who has gone down in history as the most lethal sniper of the American army, was in fact brought up in a family that went hunting and went to church; a family which firmly believed that it is one’s duty to defend the weakest whenever possible and thus be willing to pick up a rifle if one’s country is under attack. This, then, becomes Kyle’s totalizing mission, leading him to become so captivated by his task that he overlooks his family and it is almost impossible for him to “come home”. 

It is no coincidence that this human journey sparked the interest of director and writer Clint Eastwood. The filmmaker has already dealt with similar genres and issues of war in the past, selecting stories of heroism, propaganda and tragedy (see Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers). He allows us to get to the heart of the American spirit through his characters instead of through abstract concepts. 

Therefore, it is useless to search the movie for the reasons behind the Iraq War; this is of no interest to Eastwood, who chooses to tell Kyle’s story from the inside.

Eastwood allows himself to be determined (for better or for worse) by his bulky human presence; he cannot help but be fully aware of his strengths and weaknesses because the facts that surround him make it impossible for him to forget them.

The movie introduces us to a particularly interesting perspective when we see that it is ultimately the sniper’s decision to obliterate a potential threat—even when the target is a child. Thus, Chris ultimately carries the weight and responsibility of each hit on his shoulders.

Furthermore, although at first it may seem as if Kyle is solely worried about protecting his comrades to the point that he will even sacrifice the lives of civilians to do so, we gradually see (mostly through his relationship with his wife Taya) that this responsibility takes a deep toll on him.  

Eastwood’s traditional directing style allows him to portray war without hiding its brutality, but by highlighting the esprit de corps between the soldiers that he photographs — by attaching himself to them, or placing himself above them, with camera angles that allow him to grasp the complexity and danger of the situation. Likewise, the domestic scenes are captured with simplicity, allowing for a sense of warmth, without eliminating the uneasiness that Kyle feels each time he returns from one of the missions that have become his reason for living. 

For some this will be rhetorical. In our opinion, however, this is quality cinema that is not afraid to use the tools that the seventh art has to offer to express a vision that, while some Americans may share and embrace it, many others will not even consider legitimate. Yet, these others do not realize that Eastwood is fully aware of the price that people like Chris Kyle must pay. In fact, the director is so aware of this price that he concludes the film along the very road that Chris finds as an escape, by helping veterans in the only way he can, although this will end up costing him his life.

Viewer discretion is advised: Many scenes of violence and brutality

Luisa Cotta Ramosino is an Italian television writer and creative producer; she is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri del cinema and Scegliere un film, an annual collection of film reviews.