Cooper plays real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, on whose memoir the film is based. It’s a performance made up of long silences and several scenes of intense inner conflict that the actor conveys without a hint of sentimentality. Kyle, a Texan rodeo rider who served four terms of duty in Iraq, became known as the deadliest sniper in US military history, racking up a confirmed 160 kills. In one of the film’s most tense moments, Kyle, positioned on a rooftop in a war-ravaged landscape, contemplates – but only briefly – whether to take down an Iraqi woman and child who appear to be hiding a grenade. It’s a scene that tells us plenty about our protagonist.
Yet, making the same point as that chilling supermarket scene towards the end of The Hurt Locker, it’s in the bits where Kyle is home between tours that Eastwood really hammers his anti-war message. Disoriented and struggling to adjust to domestic life, he’s a shadow of his former self, understandably causing deep anguish to his wife (Sienna Miller).
Eastwood shoots the action with an urgency that is palpable. He places the viewer bang at the centre of the conflict as Kyle and his troops smash down doors, race up and down stairways, and navigate sensitive streets. But there’s also a not-too-convincing subplot about a bounty being placed on Kyle’s head by insurgents on the other side, and a shooter who pursues him doggedly.
Such occasional hiccups aside, American Sniper is blunt, uncomfortable, and thought-provoking. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. At 84, Eastwood can still play a young man’s game. Don’t miss this film.