Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2014. Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Mad Chance, Joint Effort, Malpaso Productions. Screenplay by Jason Hall, based on the book by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, James Defelice. Cinematography by Tom Stern. Produced by Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Andrew Lazar, Robert Lorenz, Peter Morgan. Production Design by Charisse Cardenas, James J. Murakami. Costume Design by Deborah Hopper. Film Editing by Joel Cox, Gary Roach. Academy Awards 2014. American Film Institute 2014.
The life and legend of Chris Kyle is the subject of a tepid and wholly uneven war film by Clint Eastwood, highlighting the military career of a soldier who did four tours during the Iraq war before his life ended in tragic circumstances on his own home turf. Bradley Cooper is surprisingly effective as the Texas native who was raised to love God, country and guns by his hard-edged father, turning an aimless career performing in rodeos into great success in the army when his exceptional sharp-shooting skills have him taking out opponents on the battlefield. Days and nights of developing instincts for avoiding danger on a minute-by-minute basis are not good for the soul, however, and an unacknowledged issue with post-traumatic stress disorder nearly destroys his relationships with friends and family, revealing that coming home from battle means more than just getting on an airplane and landing in your own country. Eastwood puts his best effort into finding the heart of this story without being too polemical, at once describing in detail the horrendous effect that a battleground has on these men’s psyches while at the same time honestly examining the culture Kyle comes from (there’s a bible and a gun on screen within minutes of the movie’s opening) without finding it completely valueless. Unfortunately he also directs the battle sequences effectively while letting stale dialogue and contrived sequences stand in the home scenes (co-starring Sienna Miller as Kyle’s wife), which rob the film of most of its emotional sympathy (not to mention glaring technical errors that defy all logic: it’s hard to stay grounded in fight scenes between the couple when the babies they are holding are clearly dolls that don’t move and look plastic). As a result of this, the weakness at the centre of this film means that it can be manipulated towards whatever prejudices the viewer brought in with them, either as insidious warmongering propaganda or the justification of the American Way. None of the successes on the field bring glory and Kyle’s death is left off screen instead of being presented as a pornographically detailed heroic demise, but gun culture as an integral part of Kyle’s brand of American culture is not connected with the strange way that his life ended either, and real life details about his post-war activities (from his own writings we know he didn’t handle the stress as well as it seems here) are without question scrubbed up, maligning the intelligent lack of judgment and muted sympathy that Eastwood generally brings to his films.