Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort has replicated the success of many of its predecessors by finding its way into the Oscars race (best film and best actor for Bradley Cooper), this time around though it has been beleaguered by controversy over its portrayal of both the war in Iraq following nine eleven and also the accuracy of the depiction of real life central character Chris Kyle, the titular American sniper and indeed the most successful one in US history going by his number of kills. I don’t think the naysayers are in this case justified – I fail to see how anyone can view the film as anything other than a very strong statement against war in general, and as for the content and the focus on one side of the conflict, well, there is a pretty big clue in the title as to what one can expect from the plot.
Oddly enough, there is no back story to any of the reputed 255 kills that we see Kyle ratchet up and many of the details to do with individual events are inventions or elaborations, though nothing that doesn’t fit with the setting, and throughout the movie there is a narrative following an enemy sniper which is purely to make the story more engaging, although the sniper himself did exist. These changes work well, the film is genuinely quite exciting in some places – evoking similarities between it and ‘Zero Dark Thirty‘, and the license taken doesn’t interfere with the central concepts of what the condition of war in general is like to fight through and what the lasting effects can be for the combatants (civilians and the wider political context are very much not the focus here). The elements of jingoism are to be utterly expected, we are after all watching men going in to a war zone where their lives are guaranteed to be in jeopardy. Some of the editing is more reminiscent of the kind of way a traditional action film might be put together, but it’s the mere tiniest distraction from the seriousness of the film.
Where the film does fall down, however, is with the role of the ‘weepy moaning wife’ left behind whilst her husband endures hell. Sienna Miller has the rather joyless task of playing the part and although it certainly makes sense that she would be concerned for her husband and want him to stop returning to the war zone, she is just relentless from even before they have had their first date. She is about as stereotyped as they come and bemoaning how terrible soldiers are for potential mates doesn’t apparently stop her from eagerly bedding, tying the knot with and then opening her oven door for them, not to mention then living off their pay check. Nonetheless, this is a well made and powerful film – one that very unusually deliberately invites you to look up more about its central character, and Cooper is great in delivering a performance that one can very easily imagine as typifying the attitudes and experiences of many young American men signing up for the army. He even manages to convey that perhaps Kyle may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed at times, assuming this was deliberate of course ….