'American Sniper': What the Critics Are Saying

Bradley Cooper stars as real-life Navy SEAL and accomplished marksman Chris Kyle in Clint Eastwood's war drama

American Sniper, out in limited release on Thursday, casts Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the late Navy SEAL and Iraq War hero who was also the most accomplished marksman in American military, with 160 confirmed kills. Jason Hall Initiated the screenplay 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 drama drumming up awards buzz is directed by Clint Eastwood and also features Sienna MillerLuke Grimes and Sammy Sheik.

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Read what top critics are saying about American Sniper:

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy says it's "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 book, "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. ... A bit disappointingly, there's no real discussion of what distinguishes Kyle from the rest, nor is the man's love for what he does emphasized to the extent that it is in the book. The politics of the war are completely off the table here."

Additionally, "Eastwood handles the tragic ending with a tact underlined with irony, creepiness and a sense of loss that echoes any number of his previous films. He might have gone deeper into the ways the war infected his subject and the struggles he faced after his final homecoming, but whatever the script ignores Cooper goes a long way toward filling in. His physical transformation — bull neck, puffier face, cowboy gait, thick Texas country accent — is one thing. And his skill with jokey banter serves him well in his early scenes with Miller and some of the guys. But nothing the actor has done before suggests the dramatic assuredness he brings to his way of detailing Kyle's self-control, confidence, coolness, genuine concern for his comrades-in-arms, compulsion to serve his country and ultimate realization that enough is enough, even of the thing he loves most, which is war."

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The New Yorker's David Denby notes it as "both a devastating war movie and a devastating antiwar movie, a subdued celebration of a warrior’s skill and a sorrowful lament over his alienation and misery." Director "Eastwood’s command of this material makes most directors look like beginners. As Kyle and his men ride through rubble-strewn Iraqi cities, smash down doors, and race up and down stairways, the camera records what it needs to fully dramatize a given event, and nothing more. There’s no waste, never a moment’s loss of concentration, definition, or speed. The general atmosphere of the cities, and the scattered life of the streets, gets packed into the action. The movie, of course, makes us uneasy, and it is meant to. Like Hitchcock in Rear Window and Michael Powell in Peeping Tom, Eastwood puts us inside the camera lens, allowing us to watch the target in closeup as Kyle pulls the trigger. Eastwood has become tauntingly tough-minded: 'You’re enjoying this, aren't you?' he seems to be saying. And, with the remorselessness of age, he follows Kyle’s rehabilitation and redemption back home, all the way to their heartbreaking and inexplicable end."

USA Today's Claudia Puig gives it three stars our of four. "It's clearly Cooper's show. Substantially bulked up and affecting a believable Texas drawl, Cooper embodies Kyle's confidence, intensity and vulnerability. He's thoroughly convincing in his portrayal of a man consumed by thoughts of soldiers he was unable to save. ... While action scenes are riveting, what doesn't work as well is an enemy sniper character named Mustafa (Sammy Sheik), a mysterious villain who shows up and disappears as if on cue. Eastwood uses sound and silence to intensify the suspense and underscore Kyle's ethical quandaries, and he allows for brutal violence and gritty firefights to rip through sequences."

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The New York Observer's Rex Reed writes, "Eastwood seems to dedicate his hawk’s eye vision of 'supporting the troops' to an unpopular continuation of the ongoing war in Iraq, but his direction has none of the vigor of either of his previous war efforts, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. Cooper imbues Chris Kyle with the sensitivity, charm and adrenalin lacking elsewhere in Hall's screenplay, and Miller is very good as his long-suffering wife Taya. But there’s no freshness in either the domestic scenes or the combat sequences that all look like outtakes from The Hurt Locker. The locales do at least look authentic, though Iraq is played by Morocco."

The Guardian's Xan Brooks says it "offers a heartfelt salute to US muscle, a Green Berets for the war in Iraq; ringing with patriotic fervour and bullish male bonding. It’s lean, tough and tightly paced, darting from the rooftops of Falluja down through the ruined streets where the yellow dust swirls. But the film leaves a mass of casualties on either side of the frame. ... [Eastwood's] gripping, incurious film gives the impression of having not so much been directed as dictated. It stares so fixedly down the rifle sight that it is finally guilty of tunnel vision."