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American Sniper portrays soldiers’ lives honestly

(Pacificcove/flickr)

(Pacificcove/flickr)

Taylor Gilmore, Writer

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This review contains spoilers. I wrote this film review as a moviegoer who did not read the book American Sniper, or have any previous knowledge of Chris Kyle’s life story. 

American Sniper “opens with Bradley Cooper – who plays Chris Kyle – on a rooftop in Iraq deciding whether or not he should shoot a child carrying a bomb. He takes the shot. The young boy is the first of 160 confirmed kills out of 225 probable kills Kyle made during his four tours of duty, making him the most lethal Navy SEAL in history. “American Sniper” tells the true story of Chris Kyle’s life, showing not only American soldiers’ fight for glory, but also their fight to leave the war behind when they return home.

When the lights came on at the end of the movie, there was no applause or emotion. The audience simply rose in silence, and left. The movie gave us all a lot to think about and made it impossible to react to immediately. “American Sniper” is not an easy film to digest, but gives soldiers’ struggles the recognition it deserves.

Director Clint Eastwood uses flashbacks to explain the choices Kyle makes and the belief system he depends on. In the beginning of the film, the audience sees Kyle in elementary school defending his little brother on the playground, and hunting with his father, who taught him to always protect his loved ones. After he sees a bombing on TV, Kyle decided to join the Navy SEALS to protect his country.

Flashbacks help pull the audience out of intense war scenes into happier memories to build the plot, but there were a few story lines that felt incomplete at the end of the movie. I want to know more about what happened to Kyle’s younger brother, who we only see in passing once throughout the rest of the movie. Kyle’s relationship with his father is important to the shaping of his beliefs, but we don’t see him later in Kyle’s life either, even though he is alive.

“American Sniper” is uncomfortable. For any citizen of the United States with no previous knowledge about Chris Kyle, it’s  hard to watch. The battle scenes are very intense and it is not the type of action that you are used to seeing in films. It is triggering and reveals what our troops may experience in the field.

Eastwood leaves nothing to the imagination. We see blood and gore, not just affecting the bad guys. Audiences see American soldiers die and we watch their efforts to save each other. In a particularly difficult scene to stomach, a wanted Taliban member puts a drill through a child’s skull.

Losing hope in the fight for glory is a major theme in the film. Kyle believes in the war and this spirit is seen in most of the SEALs, but as time goes on, they begin to question their purpose and beliefs. Once they felt that the fight wasn’t worth it anymore, their battle to survive was often lost. 

When Kyle returns from war for the last time, we expect him to be happy, normal and to feel like a superhero since he is the most celebrated sniper in history, but he is completely distraught. Despite his popularity in the military, he doesn’t feel like he saved enough soldiers and doesn’t see his killings as an accomplishment. In action movies, death doesn’t phase the hero, but in real life, things end up drastically different.

Kyle exhibits signs of post-traumatic stress disorder after his first tour, and it worsens with each tour after. We see this as he goes to an ultrasound appointment with his wife and the doctor insists on taking his blood pressure, which is abnormally high. He stares aimlessly at a blank TV screen reliving the horrors he experienced overseas, and is withdrawn from reality.  

Bradley Cooper portrays Kyle realistically and honestly. He brings to life more than a skilled sniper, but the character, ideals, and personality of the man behind the gun. Cooper is able to show the difference that war makes mentally and physically; Kyle goes from a happy cowboy to a hollow shell of a hurting man in desperate need of help.

The media gives us images and stories of war that make us believe what they want, but they don’t usually share the stories of individual soldiers and their traumatic experiences. This movie gives audiences the opportunity to understand the toll war has on soldiers, veterans, and their loved ones.

Other Reviews You Might Be Interested In: NPR, New York Post, The Guardian 

 Taylor Gilmore can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @taylorgilmore.

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American Sniper portrays soldiers’ lives honestly