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A taut, vivid and sad account of the brief life of the most accomplished marksman in American military annals, American Sniper feels very much like a companion piece — in subject, theme and quality — to The Hurt Locker.
Starring a beefed-up and thoroughly Texanized Bradley Cooper as we’ve never seen him before, Clint Eastwood‘s second film of 2014 is his best in a number of years, as it infuses an ostensibly gung-ho and patriotic story with an underlying pain and melancholy of a sort that echoes the director’s other works about the wages of violence.
Unlike The Hurt Locker, however, this Warner Bros. Christmas release should enjoy a muscular box-office career based on the extraordinary popularity of its source book by the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, Cooper’s star status and its “God, country, family” aspects that will draw that part of the public that doesn’t often go to the movies.
The gun — along with its significance to the United States, past and present — has been Eastwood’s most frequent co-star since the beginning of his career and has played a major role in most of his best films, from the Westerns and the Dirty Harrys to the war dramas.
As the title suggests, a gun — or, more precisely, an extremely high-powered rifle — shares the screen with Cooper here, although it is not at all fetishized in the manner that weapons are in the book.
Initiated by screenwriter Jason Hall in conjunction with Kyle while the latter was still alive and before the publication of the book Kyle wrote with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice, the film is surprisingly different from the book in its focus and feel.
The tome takes a sort of checklist approach to Kyle’s life, especially his military career, and rarely dramatizes events in a visceral or exciting way.
By contrast, the script tends to emphasize major hazardous episodes in each of the soldier’s four tours of duty, which are staged with the requisite intensity and are interrupted by brief respites that illustrate Kyle’s increasingly detached relationship with his wife and family.