The trailer tricked me. The trailer made me want to see this. The trailer made me think, as much as I’m over Clint Eastwood, maybe this one will win me over. Maybe this one will be different.
The first two minutes of the movie is the trailer, only worse. The trailer pares that scene down: sniper Chris Kyle sees a little boy and his mother enter a war zone and is responsible for either killing them, or letting them live, possibly to take out his fellow soldiers. He has only moments to decide. We hear his heart beat and feel the weight of the decision. In the movie? Not so much. It’s noisier, there’s more distracting us, it just doesn’t feel as clean or as pure. And if a movie makes you long for the trailer, it doesn’t exactly bode well for the remaining 2 hours and 11 minutes.
Plus there’s Bradley Cooper and his stupid fat face and his faltering Texan accent. I liked when the movie touched on the moral question, on how this guy, based on a real man (with four tours to Iraq under his belt and 160 confirmed kills), deals with taking lives, sometimes that of women and children. Even if it’s the “right” call, how do you make it feel right? I don’t think Cooper was up to the task of grappling with those emotions, and I really felt their absence. I didn’t feel like the script was up to the emotional depth that I was wanting either. Both felt lacking.
I wasn’t comfortable, am not comfortable, with the strict good guys vs bad guys presented in this movie. A sniper on the other side, doing the exact same job with the exact same weapon, with his own wife and kids at home, is a terrorist, plain and simple, while Chris gets to be the war hero. He’s the guy who’s most homesick when he’s back in America with his wife (Sienna Miller) and his eventual two kids. He’s chomping at the bit to be back in Iraq with his “flock.” His home and his family are overseas. He’s restless unless he’s among men, playing saviour. So it’s hard to believe in the film’s premise, in “Kyle’s sacrifice” because you see pretty clearly that he’s not making much of one. When he’s in the shit, he’s exactly where he wants to be and the only place he really knows how to be. Maybe his family back home is paying the price, but he doesn’t seem to care much about them and neither does the movie; they only exist as emotional fodder.
Cooper’s performance is not without its high points. I’m thinking of a particular scene in the last third of the movie when he’s again confronted with a should I or shouldn’t I scenario. His coughing relief, understated but palpable, is 2 seconds of film that every actor aims for and few ever reach. But a few shining moments strung together by Cooper between a couple of well-shot war scenes just weren’t enough. Too much hero-worship. Too much patriotism-as-religion. Eastwood gives us a pretty meaty tribute but ultimately is too respectful to dig into the reality.