A grounded, authentic and devastating study of the call of duty and the price of combat.

 

Clint Eastwood pulls no punches in this powerful character study of real-life US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), who notched up four nine-month tours of duty as a sniper on the treacherous frontline of the Iraq War. Credited with killing at least 160 enemy insurgents – including women and children in the midst of launching grenade attacks – Kyle was a fiercely loyal patriot who used his unerring talent as a shooter to cover the backs of US forces on an unending series of offensives and withdrawals.

Kyle was driven by a simple mantra to serve God, country and family, but a life dedicated to duty and service came at the highest personal cost. The shock of war, and the loss of many close comrades during his time in service, took their toll on his mental health as he tried to bottle up the worst of his experiences. Then, soon after has had reacclimatised to civilian life and moved his young family back to Texas, he was shot dead on a firing range by a troubled fellow ex-Marine he was trying to help recuperate.

The action from the front is played out like the bloodiest of Westerns as Kyle’s legendary shooting prowess is matched by that of a wordless, measured and equally assured sniper on the other side, and the two become locked in direct combat. In the home scenes, Sienna Miller adds delicate nuance and insight as resilient, devoted wife Taya.

The film is unfailingly true to Chris Kyle’s character, ethos, and sheer physicality – Cooper underwent a strict regime of binge eating and weight training to bulk out and match Kyle’s frame. But the film remains open to the widest spectrum of interpretation. This is a heart-rending depiction of an all-American hero that doesn’t hesitate to ram home the chilling violence and excessive behaviours of the battlefield, and the brutalising training and blinkered mindset that constitute an effective soldier. At its heart is the stark and important message that what goes on over there can only impact on life at home. Astonishing, disturbing and unmissable.

American Sniper is released in cinemas across the UK on Friday 16th January

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