Cooper hits target in ‘American Sniper’




When I awoke this past Thursday morning to see that “American Sniper,” directed by Clint Eastwood, had snagged six Oscar nominations, including the coveted Best Picture, I was a bit skeptical.

The film just wasn’t generating the sort of buzz deemed necessary to woo the Academy.

“Sniper” is based on a book of the same name by Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. The film follows Kyle from his upbringing in small-town Texas and his dreams of being a cowboy to becoming a husband, father and Navy SEAL.

Eastwood’s direction is quality work, but it’s more reserved.

The screenplay is quite basic, which isn’t a knock on it, although it does drag at times.

With almost anyone else in the lead role, “Sniper” would flounder, but Cooper pushes it to the brink of greatness.

To the surprise of many “experts,” Cooper received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Kyle.

Less than ten minutes into the film, I was convinced he could walk away with the award.

Cooper perfectly balances subtle differences between Kyle at home and Kyle at war.

At war, he’s tense, but a bit at ease. He knows how to be a sniper and fits in perfectly. He becomes almost a mythical legend to Iraqi terrorists as they put a $180,000 (or the Iraqi dinar equivalent) hit on his head.

At home, Kyle is sleepwalking. He’s constantly in a fog. Guilt is overflowing through his veins, but not for those who he’s killed.

He understands that killing terrorists and potential threats are his job; it comes with the territory.

The lives of his fellow soldiers he did not and will not save are forever on his conscience. His soul is stained and that noticeably leaves a toll on him mentally and physically as he is away from combat.

Cooper doesn’t go over the top with this.

His pain, his anger, his post-war trauma are just brewing slightly below the surface.

This is a complete star performance. With three acting nominations in as many years, it would not be a stretch to say Cooper is the best working actor in the business.

A problem often cited with “American Sniper” is that the narrative is too one-sided. Critics complaining about this are missing the point.

Yes, this movie is about war, but its goal and overarching theme is to show the experience of being Chris Kyle.

Eastwood is paying homage and diving into the torment and responsibility of possessing this unique lethal skill and the toll it takes on a man.

It’s not about politics; it’s about the American struggle and the calamities that come with freedom.