'American Sniper' is quintessential Clint Eastwood.

AuthorCoyle, Jake

Byline: Jake Coyle

'American Sniper'

A Warner Bros. release

Rated: PG-13 for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout, including some sexual references.

Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes

A mere six months after releasing the Four Seasons drama "Jersey Boys,'' Clint Eastwood has again lapped his younger directing colleagues with his second film of 2014 and his best movie in years. "American Sniper'' is quintessentially Eastwood: a tautly made, confidently constructed examination of the themes that have long dominated his work.

"American Sniper,'' based on Navy SEAL marksman Chris Kyle's best-selling memoir, is both a tribute to the warrior and a lament for war. Shirking politics, the film instead sets its sights squarely on its elite protagonist (Bradley Cooper), a traditional American war hero in an untraditional war.

Here is an archetypal American: a chew-spitting, beer-drinking Texas cowboy who enlists after the 1998 bombings of American embassies with resolute righteousness and noble patriotic duty. The once wayward Kyle finds his true calling in the Navy, and he heads to Iraq with a moral certainty that no amount of time served or kills will shake. He's there to kill bad guys -- "savages'' he calls them at one point.

And kill he does. With 160 confirmed kills, Kyle is believed to be the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. The film starts with a remarkable scene of Kyle poised on an Iraq rooftop with a young boy holding a grenade in his scope. Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall flashback to Kyle's upbringing, where his father taught him about "the gift of aggression'' and the honor of defending others.

It's the first of many cuts between faraway battle and the personal life Kyle leaves behind. Shortly before shipping out, he weds Taya, played by Sienna Miller, who gives a refreshingly lively take on a usually one-dimensional character. She's more cynical than her husband, who returns to their growing family between tours, his head increasingly stuck in Iraq.

He's much like a terse and weary Western hero torn from home; an early shot through the front door of their home evokes the famous final image of John Ford's "The Searchers.'' Instead of a Stetson, Kyle wears a baseball cap, turned...

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