Towards the beginning of “American Sniper,” Bradley Cooper’s cowboy turned Navy SEAL Chris Kyle receives the instruction to make pulling a trigger an unconscious effort. Director Clint Eastwood and writer Jason Hall, however, ensure that the audience watching Kyle’s exploits are very conscious of the rationale and logic behind the dispatch of every bullet. No kill feels sensationalized to satisfy bloodlust, even when that sentiment disguises itself as patriotism.
The film simply portrays one man’s experience during four tours in the post-9/11 Middle East, opting not for any anti-military statement (like “Green Zone“) nor for a chest-thumping jingoism (like “The Kingdom”). Since Kyle is the protagonist and the eyes through which the viewer watches the film, of course “American Sniper” tilts in his favor. But he is not celebrated merely because of his record 160 kills; the film lionizes Kyle because of the value he placed on leadership and loyalty.
At this stage in the cinema’s grappling with what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, just telling stories from over there seems important. And that basically sums up the extent of what “American Sniper” is: a presentation of Chris Kyle’s narrative. Eastwood and Hall never fully commit to either showing the full terror of combating terrorism (a la “Lone Survivor“) or the grueling mental experience of the soldiers (in the vein of “The Hurt Locker“). They pull elements from each effectively, yet they never really advance a thesis or a broader takeaway.