In recent years, there is at least one war movie set in the Middle East that catches Oscars' attention. There was "The Hurt Locker," "Zero Dark Thirty," and "Lone Survivor." This year, it is "American Sniper," which is nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture.
The title refers to Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a real-life Navy Seal who served during the war against Iraq from 2003-2009. He was a Texan cowboy who decided he wanted to do more for his country as a soldier. During his training, it is discovered that he has a particular talent for being a sniper. He subsequently had four tours of duty in six years, notoriously credited with a record 160 confirmed kills (probably even more in reality). On the other end, he was neglecting his young family Stateside -- his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and his kids. An injury in his last mission led to his forced retirement. He realizes he cannot get back to living a normal life anymore.
Director Clint Eastwood had directed introspective war films before, the lyrical "Letters from Iwo Jima" (2006) being a personal favorite. Being a Eastwood movie, the story of "American Sniper" (based on Chris Kyle's own memoirs) was told in a very straight-forward manner, not too much cinematic excess. The war scenes in this film are very well-shot, with excellent editing and sound mixing. It does not shirk from the violence, but there was no overkill on the gore. The climactic sniper scene (a spectacular 2,100 yard kill) and its dusty aftermath is really a memorable one, very exciting and exhilarating in execution.
The last thirty minutes or so dealing with Kyle's post-traumatic stress disorder were very touching. This is where Bradley Cooper best displays the acting chops which earned him his nominations for Best Actor from various award-giving bodies, Oscar included. This is already Cooper's third Oscar nomination in a row after "Silver Lining Playbook" and "American Hustle". Aside from the fact that Cooper absolutely dominates this film with his nuanced performance, the patriotic fervor inspired by this film may also work in his favor, although his category is really tight this year.
With the title alone, expect to watch a very American film -- a movie clearly made for its flag, country and ideals. While it has been accused of being pro-war propaganda, you will actually pick up Clint Eastwood's anti-war sentiments along the way. (Oh, you will notice something odd about Chris and Taya's baby, but don't let it bother you too much.) 8/10.