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When the Academy Award nominations were announced in January, there were certainly plenty of the surprises on the list. While much was made about the snub of David Oyelowo for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King in SELMA, and the curious omission of THE LEGO MOVIE in the Best Animated Feature category, perhaps the biggest surprise of all was AMERICAN SNIPER. march2015-np-tallClint Eastwood’s film failed to garner attention from other award ceremonies, but when it came to the Oscar’s, the biopic of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle received 7 nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing.

The Academy wasn’t the only entity showing SNIPER the love. The film became the highest-grossing Best Picture nominee of 2014 (in its opening weekend!) and emerged as a hot-button topic for the entire nation. Somehow, particularly in Hollywood, each viewer’s opinion of the production was viewed as a direct representation of their patriotism. Whether this was a fair assessmmarch2015-np-coupleent or not (and in my opinion, it certainly is not) it allowed the film to remain the focal point of the cinematic world for weeks on end. When bronco ridin’ Texan Chris Kyle (Cooper) turns on the television\ and sees United States interests being attacked abroad, he decides to dedicate his life to serving his country. Rather than merely signing up for any branch that would take him, the determined Kyle enlists in the Navy SEALs program. While the grueling and merciless training breaks many recruits, Kyle thrives. Having been a hunter his entire life, he is an excellent marksman, and quickly emerges as one of the best snipers in his class. During his training, Kyle meets, falls in love, and marries Taya Renae (Sienna Miller). Shortly after September 11, 2001, Kyle is sent to Iraq. As a sniper, he is forced to make split-second, life and death decisions. His first kills are among the most difficult he would face, as he is forced to slay a woman and a young boy who are about to attack an American convoy. His skills with a rifle are beyond reproach, and Kyle quickly earns the nickname “Legend”.march2015-np-poster

Kyle and his men are put in charge of tracking down notorious al-Queda leader Abu Masab al-Zarqawi. Unable to capture him during his first tour, Kyle is very conflicted when he returns home. Though he is present for the birth of his son, he is preoccupied with his mission, and can’t wait to get back to Iraq. In his second tour, he is just as effective in the field as he was the first time around, but he and his men are still unable to tack down al-Zarqawi. When he returns home for the birth of his daughter, he is virtually counting down the minutes until he can go back overseas. While the budding relationship and eventual conflict that emerges between Taya and Chris is supposed to serve as the true drama of Eastwood’s production, it is easily the weakest part of the film. Certainly, you feel for Kyle’s family at home, and realize that his tale mirrors a countless number of brave men and women who face the difficulty of returning to “normal life” when they exit the battlefield. At the same time, within AMERICAN SNIPER, these scenes (particularly those that occur before the birth of the Kyle’s first child) are fairly mundane. Rather than being the focal point of the film, they instead are mere bridges to the terror and excitement that resides in the Middle East.


The scenes on the battlefront are harrowing and electric. Due in part to Cooper’s excellent performance, and also because of Eastwood’s expert direction, these sequences are shockingly intense and realistic. Kyle’s kills are sudden, fierce, and bloody. While some may argue the morality of the sniper’s decisions, within the context of AMRICAN SNIPER, the actions perpetrated by Kyle are justifiable and necessary. As Kyle, Cooper is spectacular. He isn’t an outspoken braggart about his ever-growing kill list, but rather, a conflicted man who is doing his job to the best of his abilities. While other men laud him for his deadly precision, he seems to understand the brevity of his actions each and every time he pulls the trigger. Though he realizes that he is the very reason why many of his fellow soldiers are still alive, he can’t help but be haunted by those he couldn’t save. Unlike many war films that make their protagonist larger-than-life and infallible, AMERICAN SNIPER doesn’t shy away from baring the tortured soul of an American hero.


A special thanks goes to Regal Cinemas at Destiny USA for allowing me to see this month’s films

Brian Miller

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