Movie Review: American Sniper

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“There’s a war out there. And people are dying.”

 Uttered by Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle,” “Silver Linings Playbook”), driving along the freeway in Texas with his pregnant wife, Taya (Sienna Miller, “ G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra”), sitting next to him. Back from his first tour of duty, Chris is restless and finds it an annoyance when he’s asked how he’s doing. He insists he’s fine – the weather is sunny and clear, and he’s driving to the mall. He wonders that people go about their lives, blissfully oblivious to the other side of his world, where every waking minute could be your last or the person whom you’re chatting with may drop dead in an instant.
The opening scene, with Chris’ rifle lens zooming into a child and primed to shoot, is in the trailer, but it doesn’t lessen the tension. It strikes terror in your heart and the firing sound will make your heart feel like it stop beating for a minute. Throughout Chris’ four tours, there are moments like this, where he is forced to make split-second decisions with supreme precision, every single time. One missed, late or wrong move could mean the death of his comrades or loss of lives of innocent civilians. And the enemy comes in different forms, not just armed men, but women or children as well, or termed as “savages,” so one could carry on his duty, purposely taking human lives to save the lives of many others.

Known as the “legend” with his many kills, troops feel invisible by having Chris positioned on rooftops watching over them. But Chris has said that he can’t always protect them because he can’t shoot what he can’t see. From time to time he joins the ground troops, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them, knocking on doors and hunting for targets.

The film glimpses back to Chris’ childhood in Texas, growing up with a stern father who taught him hunting in the woods and standing up for himself. Chris grows up protective of his little brother, and at 30, he signs up with the SEALs. An aspiring cowboy, he feels that he’s meant for something more. Flashbacks also show a spirited meet-cute with his future wife over shots in a bar, with chemistry apparent between Cooper and Miller. Even with Taya’s hesitation over the life ahead, they end up married and have kids. Private moments stateside or by telephone are interspersed with combat scenes a world away.

Each time Chris returns from his tour, he’s not the same man that left. He becomes acutely aware of his surroundings and ultra-sensitive to certain sounds and sights. He looks disconnected, discomfort, sometimes subtly, eyes distant and avoidant. He feels guilty, but not for the reason you may think. This man has such conviction and courage to act on his belief as a consummate professional doing his job, but not without conscience. Fragments of touching personal moments are shown in pieces, pleadings from his wife for him to be ‘human’ again and come back to her, an encounter and chat in an auto shop with a soldier he saved from the battlefield, close bonds with his brothers in the armed forces in the war zones and at the VA center.

Cooper packed 40 lbs. of muscles and appears physically imposing, but his embodiment of the legendary sniper is also much in spirit. You’ll see him simply as Chris Kyle, whether fighting in action or his inner battle. Never missing a beat, it’s a performance that throws him into the best actor awards spotlight, joining fellow actors such as Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything” and Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game.” Miller turns in a strong performance as well as a conflicted wife, torn between understanding her husband’s need to serve the country and protect others, and her need for him to be home and be there for her and their kids.

Most of us would never experience first-hand the horrors of the battleground, let alone make the life-or-death choices that Chris Kyle did, where he’s credited to be the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history with 160 confirmed kills. Directed by Clint Eastwood (“Hereafter”), the story of “American Sniper” is brought to the screen just right. And realistic.

The film does not shy away from the brutal reality of war, but it also feels close to heart (edging “Zero Dark Thirty”). You’ll hold your breath and feel every trigger pulled, every shot fired or blood splattered. It demonstrates costly personal ramifications, without glorifying the decorated war hero. An accomplished filmmaking and one of the finest, real and personal, harrowing and absorbing. An “as is” story, that tells the life of Chris Kyle.

 There’s a collective applause and then reverent silence filled the theater as closing images concluded the film. “American Sniper” honors the memory of Chris Kyle, an exemplary life of service and sacrifice.


Copyright (c) 2015. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at


Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at

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