Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) and his brother are cowboys from Texas. They like to fight, drink and chase women. Chris is a patriot and when his life as a cowboy seems aimless, he notices the war on the news and decides that’s a cause he can get involved in. He’s thirty years old and ready to start basic training as a Navy Seal. His brother follows him into it.
Chris is a strong Texan stereotype – it’s a role he’s fallen into, partly because it’s a stereotype that he likes, but he’s also the strong, quiet, sensitive man. He meets Taya (Sienna Miller) in a pub and holds her hair back when she vomits. They bond over the experience. They get married and soon after, Chris ships off to Iraq ready to join the war.
Like many war movies, especially a lot of modern ones, few of the characters beside our protagonist are alive long enough, or interesting as individuals, to tell the difference between them. A few just barely stand out:
Biggles (Jake McDorman) is friends with Chris from early on, the actor displays a lot of personality, but there isn’t much of a unique history, or development. And he gets taken out after being on screen for only a short time and loses his sight.
Marc (Jake McDorman) benefits from a few more details as a person, but gets so little screen time that the emotion to sell the character is pushing a rock uphill.
D (Cory Hardrict) is one of the last left standing (yet the least developed of the three memorable-ish characters,) when Chris finally feels like he’s achieved his mission so he can quit the war on his terms. Before this happens, every time Chris returns home, he is just killing time until he gets to go back to war.
Chris struggles when he is sent home, because his mind thinks he’s still at war, every situation is a high pressure, life or death decision and as a result his health is suffering.
However, American Sniper is one of the better films of its type in this way, because while the focus is on the shock his experiences and tough choices/actions have on his mortal mind and on how he struggles to reinsert himself into civilised life when he returns from the war, Chris aka The Legend is a strong character, an emotionally complex character.
As Chris takes out bad guy after bad guy, his reputation and his prestige/command builds and improves within the military organisation – the effects of this include an increase in control over his choices, a freedom of movement and higher priority targets.
There isn’t much time to spend on Chris’s emotional plot as the main story is already fairly complicated with his role as a sniper, the complexity of missions and choices in the war and his struggle with civilian life.
I enjoyed this movie as a war movie with something slightly more unique than the rest. It could have been explored more psychologically, or as an adventure story been made more exciting. I felt it was an average intellectual and emotional story about one man’s struggle against experiences that the audience needs to understand, in order to understand the man.
As an intellectual story it wasn’t very intellectual. As an adventure story it wasn’t smart enough. As an emotional story the characters weren’t very deep so the emotion had little to play off.
I think Cooper however, did an excellent job of portraying the emotional plot – which was strong enough, that one could get something out of this film despite its shortcomings. It does feel a bit morally superior like a bad TV movie.
The payoff for the emotional plot is the fact that it’s based on a true story and Chris eventually does seek help and return to his family so he can begin to live life, his mission over.