This review contains spoilers.
American Sniper, this month’s box office phenomenon, directed by Clint Eastwood has taken the nation by storm. It is the story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who has been recognized as the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. The film chronicles his life, from his days as a young boy in Texas to a rodeo cowboy to his enlistment in the Navy, including his experience with Coronado’s BUD/s. Kyle then meets Taya Renae at a bar, and the couple quickly fall in love, even amidst Kyle’s time in sniper training. The couple marries and shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Chris deploys for the first time.
The film, which is based on Kyle’s autobiography of the same name, eloquently shows the battle Chris faces, both in theater and back at home, as he constantly struggles between his commitment to both. Throughout, viewers see firsthand the horror of war and the agonizing actions Chris has to take to protect his fellow brothers in arms and himself, earning himself the title of Legend. Torn between his duty to his country and to his family, Chris’ relationship with his wife Taya struggles, as she yearns for him to be mentally and emotionally present with her and their two children while he’s home. The film takes viewers through his four tours in Iraq until he ultimately decides he is ready to be home with his family. Upon leaving the military, the Kyle family moves back to Texas where Chris spends his time working with veterans who are suffering from PTSD. The movie ends with a renewed Chris and Taya, who have found their way back to happiness and each other. Sadly, as many film goers know from news coverage, Chris was later killed by a fellow veteran suffering from PTSD.
It’s hard to say anything profound about this film that hasn’t already been said, but there is a reason it has literally captivated audiences nationwide. Bradley Cooper, who plays Chris Kyle, delivered an astonishing performance. American Sniper is a stunning look at the gruesome torments of war and the unenviable decisions that Chris has to make. Among his 164 confirmed kills are women and children, which viewers see in the movie. It’s painful to watch the disconnect he experiences when he returns home after each deployment and the immense hurt and frustration on the part of Taya who only longs to reconnect with the man she loves. Chris is haunted throughout by the sights and sounds of what he has endured and the friends he has lost along the way, and feels compelled to avenge their deaths. Even while at home, daily he wrestles with all that he’s done, while at the same time, longing to go back and do more.
In a cruel irony, Chris Kyle died the way he lived – by giving of himself to others. Upon his separation from the Navy, Chris worked with veterans suffering from PTSD and ultimately lost his life at the hands of a Marine he was trying to help. While the movie does not give much focus to his life and work after the military, it’s important to note his role in continuing to serve his country by helping others who were struggling to recover from the atrocity of war.
While the film was essentially flawless, there were a few minor details that could have been included to allow the viewer, particularly those who were not familiar with Chris Kyle’s life and military service, to better understand the sequence of events. The time frames of his deployments were not given, nor was his honorable discharge from the Navy even mentioned. Viewers could only assume he was separated from the military when the family moved to Texas. Additional information, perhaps in conjunction with the on-screen text that alerted viewers to his death, about his work beyond his military career, including his work with wounded vets, would have been helpful to be able to better understand the ways in which Chris continued his service outside of the Navy.
American Sniper is a magnificent film because it’s more than just a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s an authentic look at the real horrors, struggles and triumphs Chris and Taya Kyle faced during his service to our country and beyond. It brings to light the real honor and sacrifice of Chris Kyle and other service members like him — contributions that Americans need to know about. This movie will likely win several Academy Awards, and rightfully so, but even if it doesn’t, it has no doubt captured the hearts and minds of those who seek to understand and it has fed the insatiable hunger this country has for coming to know the true stories of those who defend our freedom. The extreme sacrifices Chris and Taya each made both for each other and for his service can probably only be best understood by those who know them well, but it was an honor nonetheless to get a glimpse and be a part of all they have given.
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Run time: 132 minutes
See upcoming showtimes for American Sniper here.
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