Kelly McGarry | Wednesday, January 21, 2015
When we think of the trials of those fighting for our country, we might imagine soldiers carrying weapons, braving gunfire and explosions in a distant unfamiliar country, the fear of death mingling with exhaustion. Often forgotten is the war that follows veterans home, the battle with reliving the horrors of their experience and trying to return to a normal life.
“American Sniper” retells the trials and triumphs of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, as adapted from his autobiography. As a boy, Chris Kyle learned from his father to not be a sheep or a wolf, but to be a sheepdog. The protector instinct is so deeply ingrained that hearing of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Kyle is driven to join the military to protect the country he considers the greatest on earth.
The film broke box-office records and has received six Oscar nominations. Its enormous success may be an indication of American patriotism and an attitude of reverence for military heroes. In a time when war is less relevant for Americans, it serves as a reminder that war persists in the memory of veterans.
Throughout four tours of duty in Iraq, Kyle proves himself a legendary sniper. The ultimate protector, he watches over his men from above and eliminates threats. He has little trouble hitting his targets; the true challenge he faces is balancing an overwhelming sense of duty both to his family at home and his fellow SEALS in the war. He returns to Iraq not only on tour after tour, but also constantly in his mind.
This harrowing tale of patriotism pays homage to an American hero. Unfortunately, the movie as a memoir takes an overly reverent perspective, calling for a lack of flaws in the main character. His character is portrayed as perfectly patriotic and responds to a perfect sense of duty. His convictions remain steadfast throughout challenges, defending that his only regret from the war was that he could not protect more of his own. With even Kyle’s widow involved in the making of the film, his character is portrayed with the level of depth of a family member’s eulogy. His strength is remembered along with the struggles he overcame, but he is not told as a complete person with flaws and failures. Though Kyle is troubled by his experiences in war, the challenges he overcomes only strengthen his heroic image. One might suspect a darker side to the most lethal man in U.S. military history.
Leaning far in the direction of a biography, “American Sniper” lacks the narrative quality connecting one moment to the next. Nevertheless, Bradley Cooper does a remarkable performance in this important role. Faced with the challenge of honoring Kyle’s memory, Cooper manages to create an incredibly relatable character who is heroic yet humble and down-to-earth. Given little evidence of weakness in the script itself, the troubled mind of the protagonist seems to appear in Cooper’s eyes, in a performance reminiscent of Clint Eastwood himself.
It seems that the construction of the movie is really a collection of moments. Intense scenes of war mingle with heartrending personal experiences, creating an inspirational yet heartbreaking account that leaves the audience speechless.