by Richard Gould
Fully prepared to hate AMERICAN SNIPER, I came away from the film under a spell that few war films have ever put me through. Director Clint Eastwood accepted the project far into production after Steven Spielberg left it, and it turns out that my Republican, rally-round-the-flag fears were unfounded—Eastwood’s austere style trumps his politics and finds little to romanticize in this story of America’s deadliest shooter. Still, the film has struck a chord, that once-a-decade groundswell among red-staters and non-moviegoers, like The Passion of the Christ and Forrest Gump before it—which has less, I think, to do with Chris Kyle’s story than with the more real sense that versions of this story are being repeated thousands of times in this country. War’s horror and the unreality of homecoming are well-trodden territory, but thanks to Bradley Cooper’s mesmerizing performance, which follows Kyle’s training, romance, deployment to Iraq—four tours in a decade—and return, it’s felt here with conviction. The unlikelihood that any of Kyle’s 255 kills (160 confirmed) had anything to do with the terrorist attacks that so galvanized him doesn’t enter into the film’s calculus, and in its sealed-off atmosphere you realize that it never would. You’re on a rooftop, your friends are in someone’s gun sights and you’re the only being who can save them. When you’ve returned home to your family, you’ve abandoned those friends.