Clint Eastwood has mostly seen the world as Black and White. He's never really had time or the patience for gray, not even a single shade of it. In a career ranging over 60 years, he has visited the theme of a clear battle of good vs. bad from both sides of the camera via various plots and characters. In American Sniper he has found another story to express what seems like his deep skepticism for doubt itself.
American Sniper is the story of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history with over 160 confirmed kills. He did four tours to Iraq during some of the deadliest period in the U.S. involvement and perfected the skill of a sharpshooter. But he was more than that. Chris Kyle's greatest achievement might be his lack of ambivalence about the particular situation he was in. He saw a clear, concise role for himself - not as doing just a job but of saving American lives and serving his country above everything else. He mostly let his internal demons lay sleep other than when at home where he largely found himself unable to reconcile the vast contrast to his military experience. He is unable to prioritize his family life with a loving wife (weirdly cast Sienna Miller) and kids. His issues came, not from a place of guilt or ambiguity but from a place of helplessness, an inability to play a larger role. He seems to be a rare modern soldier in that regard.
American Sniper has touched a nerve in the middle America. While coastal critics bandied over arthouse favorites like Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, hordes of moviegoers flocked to watch American Sniper and (somewhat similar) Unbroken, both making over $200 million in their first few weeks. War and its socioeconomic impact is clearly felt far more acutely in south-central America. While the East Coast celebrates its financial whiz-kids and the West Coast dotes over their geeks, the old sheepdog gunslinger still rules large swaths of this country.
Comparisons to the incredible Hurt Locker are inevitable. The Hurt Locker came across as more powerful and moving. American Sniper, while brisk and precise, seems a bit distant - just like its hero - who essentially shoots secretly and from a distance. Or perhaps because we've simply retreated from this war too far in the last five years.
Bradley Cooper, who has spent most of his career fighting his disproportionate share of good looks by playing comical or comically evil characters, finally gets to play a straight-up, no-nonsense guy, and quite fittingly. The mysterious twinkle in the eye is replaced with a sincere, somewhat troubled, a bit tortured gaze.
Kyle's story and its strange, inexplicable end are important for us to know. It is the kind of important life that can go easily unexamined specially if you're living in a whole other world, even if it happens to be in the same country.