Only a filmmaker like Clint Eastwood – conservative, patriotic but alive and sensitive to human tragedy – could make a movie about an Iraq War veteran and fill it with doubts, mission anxiety and personal tragedy. ‘American Sniper’ is a superbly subtle critique made by an especially young 84-year-old. Like ‘The Hurt Locker’, it salutes the honest work of soldiers, in this case Navy Seals, shivering through their beach training and heading to the battle zone with a minimum of fuss. Among them is Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the real-life Texas rodeo rider who, after seeing terrorism on TV, transformed himself into the military’s most lethal weapon, racking up a confirmed 160 kills.
But it’s what happens to Kyle back home – the shakes, the soaring blood pressure, the family dysfunction – that makes the film one of the most sympathetic combat movies ever produced. Bulked up yet still able to express his signature neuroticism (dialled down from ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and ‘American Hustle’), Cooper has never been better than when embracing Kyle’s seesawing psychological state. The story ends on a terrible irony, which Eastwood slightly bungles with pageantry, but the overall mood is haunted.