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American Sniper (Blu-ray Review)

15 May, 2015 By: John Latchem

Street 5/19/15
Box Office $349.4 million
$28.98 DVD, $44.95 Blu-ray
Rated 'R' for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references.
Stars Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller.

Director Clint Eastwood's latest war drama shines a spotlight on the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, who gives a mesmerizing performance.

The film is ostensibly based on Kyle's autobiography, a harrowing account of his war record, including four tours in the Middle East that resulted in more than 160 kills, making him the most prolific sniper in U.S. military history. However, the making of the film could practically be a film unto itself if the anecdotes relayed in the behind-the-scenes featurettes are to be believed.

Screenwriters were actually working on the film before Kyle published his book, likening his decade of service to something of a modern Achilles or Odysseus. Cooper was linked to the part early on, and Steven Spielberg was attached to direct.

Then, in February 2013, Kyle was murdered by a PTSD-suffering veteran he was trying to help. As the project continued, the filmmakers were even more driven to do right by Kyle. The screenwriters worked closely with his widow, Taya, and learned a side of him that wasn't evident in the book. The film became the story not just of a man humbled by his experiences in war, but also the impact his absence has on the family left behind.

Later in 2013, when Spielberg bowed out, producers called Eastwood, who had been Kyle's dream director to make his life story. Eastwood happened to be reading Kyle's book when he got the phone call (talk about serendipity).

Eastwood isn't shy about depicting the brutal mental and physical tolls of war, which really drives home Cooper's performance as Kyle's efforts to protect and defend his fellow soldiers slowly take their toll on him, just as his continued devotion to service takes its toll on his wife (Sienna Miller) and their children. The film wisely avoids politicizing the conflicts, which allows the story to remain focused solely on the characters.

The film's inevitable conclusion is not portrayed as one might expect, although how Eastwood chose to handle it certainly plays up the narrative techniques filmmakers can get away with on real-life stories as opposed to purely fictional ones.

The behind-the-scenes material is spread over two featurettes that overlap with some of the same interview material. The 31-minute "One Soldier's Journey" featurette focuses more on how the filmmakers worked with Kyle in the preparation to make the film, while the 28-minute making-of piece deals more with the actual filming and the performances (one of Kyle's real-life SEAL teammates plays himself), interspersed with quotes from critics praising Cooper and the film.

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