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Article by Teddy Durgin

'American Sniper' hits the target

"American Sniper" is a movie in which a lot of reviewers are falling into the trap of grafting their political opinions onto the film rather than just telling you whether or not it's a good flick. The film shocked many box-office analysts by clearing $90 million at the North American box office this past weekend. My Take? "American Sniper" is a heck of a motion picture, folks. On a purely technical level, the film is taut, gripping and does an exceptional job putting you in the character's clothes, boots and predicaments. The way it's shot and edited, you can almost feel it when a human finger is caressing the trigger of a gun, when the butt of the rifle rests on a shoulder, when the title character's elbows rests heavy on the floor of a sniper's perch as he goes about his job. Bradley Cooper stars as Chris Kyle, who is recognized as the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history with over 150 confirmed long-range kills in the Iraqi war zone. The film begins with the scene from the trailer, with Kyle providing cover for American troops on the move through an urban hell. A child and a woman appear in the middle of the street as the U.S. troops and their war machines approach and suddenly the mother produces what looks like some sort of explosive device that she hands to the kid and tells him to give to the soldiers. In the moment, Kyle has to make a fateful choice. Let the boy get to the convoy where he could possibly blow it up and kill and maim a dozen or more of his guys? Or shoot the kid dead. The film doesn't show you his choice for a while. It flashes back to key moments of his life that show how Kyle got into that position where he had to make that choice. It shows him hunting with his dad at a very young age where you could already see his "gift" as a marksman. It shows him defending his smaller, weaker, younger brother against a bully on the playground. It shows him leaving the Texas rodeo circuit in search of a more meaningful profession. From there, we see his enlisting in the Navy at age 30; meeting his future wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), and having just enough charm to win her hand; and, finally, waking up on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and seeing the World Trade Center fall. "American Sniper" is a biopic crossed with an origin story crossed with a straight-up war movie. It doesn't take as hard a look at its subject or the war he fought in as some would like, especially those on the far left. But I don't think it's the rah-rah, flag-waving hero story that many on the right are making it out to be either. As presented by director Clint Eastwood, Chris Kyle's story is that of a guy who had a skill, who fashioned himself a patriot, was then trained as a soldier, then went about doing his job with the same sort of unwavering belief that he was right as those folks are in espousing their rigid political beliefs on the cable talk shows every night. That said, there are subtleties throughout "American Sniper" that, for me, really distinguish the film. Kyle serves four tours of duty in Iraq. And the difference between the gung-ho first tour when 9/11 was so fresh and raw to that fourth tour where Kyle is still ready to wage war but so many around him now are drained and frustrated is stark. And while his commitment to the cause never wavers, his own personal mission becomes less about protecting the homefront and more about using his sniper skills to protect as many troops as possible and to exact revenge on the master sniper on the Iraqi side who is killing so many of his guys. As much as I admire "American Sniper," I did feel let down by the film's rather rushed final act. The film shows that Chris was clearly traumatized from his tours of duty, traumas that seemingly cleared up from ... one trip to a VA hospital where he connected with those maimed and wounded?! I'm not saying that's how it was in real life. I'm saying that's how it appears in the movie. My only other quibble is with a framing device Eastwood uses that separates Kyle's four tours of duty. Prior to each time he returns to Iraq, it's directly after a scene where he argues with or is henpecked by his wife. After the first couple of times, my wife Bonnie and I were, like, "Zip it, Taya. You're gonna make going back to war a relief!" And sure enough, after each time she busts him for not being there for her or the kids, a title card comes up and its "Tour Three" or "Tour Four." War is indeed hell, yes. But love is a battlefield!

"American Sniper" is rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout.


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