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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



American Sniper, Review: Kyler instinct--all hits, no misses!

American Sniper, Review: Kyler instinct--all hits, no misses!

Clint Eastwood told BBC arts editor Will Gompertz recently that he was not fond of the war in Iraq, but was "always sympathetic to veterans". At 84, he is quite a veteran himself too. It’s been a long time since the Rawhide series (early 1960s),  Sergio Leone’s Italian spaghetti Western that made him a star (Fistful of Dollars, 1964), the hard-hitting cop that was to become a prototype (Dirty Harry, 1971)  and his directorial debut (Play Misty for Me, also 1971). That he can still make impactful films, usually counterpoising violence with ethical and moral principles, is creditable.

When you make a modern war film based on an autobiography, and the protagonist dies before the film is started, your film becomes that much more special. American Sniper is also controversial, for it tells the tale of a ‘killing fixation’ affected navyman Chris Kyle who hit ‘bull’s eye’ with at least 150 and possibly 250 targets, all of them over a period of four ‘tours’ in Iraq. With the war in Iraq itself regarded as unwarranted and futile by millions of detractors, showcasing the exploits of a man who was single-handedly responsible for so many deaths might amount to endorsing the war itself. Eastwood might say that he was not fond of the war in Iraq, but anybody who sees this film will find it hard to believe him.

It is mentioned on the Chris Kyle website that Chris joked with his wife that it would be cool if Clint Eastwood made a movie about him. His wife Taya Kyle was very worried about a movie being made about the story. What a hard challenge for any actor to live up to Chris and present him in such a way that would make his team-members and family proud! Not only that, but the actress to play Taya had to live up to the same expectations. After meeting with Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, Taya felt relaxed and confident that it would be done correctly. Bradley gained 40 pounds for the role, and deglamourised himself to look more like Chris (see picture above). The book was adapted for the screen by Jason Hall (Paranoia--with Barry Levy) and filming took place in Los Angeles and Morocco.

U.S. Navy SEAL (SEa Air Land) Chris Kyle is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname “Legend.” On the other side of the battle-line, there is another sharp-shooter, an Olympic medallist from Syria, who is wiping out American targets with similar precision. Chris is also facing a different kind of battle on the home front: striving to be a good husband and father from halfway around the world. Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, personifying the SEAL creed to “leave no man behind.” But upon returning to his wife, Taya and kids, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind. According to his father’s diktat, the world is divided into sheep, sheepdogs and wolves. And he must be the sheepdog that will fight back and take revenge. He was doing exactly this for ten years. Now that he is out of the military service, who does he fight-back and take revenge against?

Eastwood’s filming of the true story is classy, smooth and seamless. He extracts wonderful performances, and Bradley Cooper will be taken a lot more seriously after this outing. If the Syrian sniper isn’t given a single line, or if the fighters around him projected as a ragtag bunch of amateurs who just rush in and get shot, maybe the Iraqi resistance was like that. Comparison with The Hurt Locker will be inevitable, though the earlier film might come across as more of an anti-war statement than a glorious ode to a war veteran, which American Sniper is. Getting some real SEALs on board was a good idea and must have surely helped recreate the landscape and the ambience. Jason Hall’s screenplay plays havoc with our emotions when two children and one woman have their reflections in the gun-sight of the merchant of death, and you are filled with compassion for the hero when he wants to avoid pressing the trigger on one occasion. Reports in the media suggest that the real Kyle would have felt no such compunction. For all its tear-jerking appeal, the engagement ring episode appears contrived and is a sure giveaway that there is going to be a tragic death soon.

This is not the Bradley Cooper one saw in The Hangover ‘trilogy’. In the long-delayed Serena, he was over-shadowed by Jennifer Lawrence, while we saw some Cooper sparks in American Hustle, again with Lawrence. American Sniper is a dream role and offers him a lot of scope; to his credit, he makes sure it translates into a solid character. The ambivalent nature of his mental make-up, living a war where everybody he aims at falls dead, contrasted with parenthood/husband roles, and the killer instinct that he just refuses to let go, come across in his face, voice, gestures and gait with high conviction. Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher, A Case of You, Just Like a Woman) as Taya finds herself in a clichéd, stock situation when she enters the film. As things get challenging, she gets underneath the skin of the role. There are more stock situations, like the phone calls from the seat of the action, where she has to emote and show deep anguish to add depth, and she does so competently.

Good support comes from Max Charles as Colton Kyle, Sam Jaeger as Captain Martens, Jake McDorman as Biggles, Cory Hardrict as 'D' / Dandridge, Navid Negahban as Sheikh Al-Obodi,  Eric Close as DIA Agent Snead, Eric Ladin as Squirrel, Joel Lambert as Delta Sniper, Rey Gallegos as Tony, Kevin Lacz as Dauber, Brian Hallisay as Captain Gillespie, Jonathan Groff as Young Vet, Ben Reed as Wayne Kyle, Elise Robertson as Debby Kyle, Keir O'Donnell as Jeff Kyle, Marnette, Patterson as Sarah, Sugar Shane as the Master Sniper and Sammy Sheik as the Syrian sniper, Mustafa.

American Sniper is focussed and engaging. It is also disturbing and unrelenting.

Rating: ***1/2


From the back cover of 'American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History', on which the film is based

He is the deadliest American sniper ever, called “the devil” by the enemies he hunted and “the legend” by his Navy SEAL brothers .

From 1999 to 2009, U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle recorded the most career sniper kills in United States military history. The Pentagon has officially confirmed more than 150 of Kyle’s kills (the previous American record was 109), but it has declined to verify the astonishing total number for this book. Iraqi insurgents feared Kyle so much they named him al-Shaitan ("the devil") and placed a bounty on his head. Kyle earned legendary status among his fellow SEALs, Marines, and U.S. Army soldiers, whom he protected with deadly accuracy from rooftops and stealth positions. Gripping and unforgettable, Kyle's masterful account of his extraordinary battlefield experiences ranks as one of the great war memoirs of all time.

A native Texan who learned to shoot on childhood hunting trips with his father, Kyle was a champion saddle-bronc rider prior to joining the Navy. After 9/11, he was thrust onto the front lines of the War on Terror, and soon found his calling as a world-class sniper who performed best under fire. He recorded a personal-record 2,100-yard kill shot outside Baghdad; in Fallujah, Kyle braved heavy fire to rescue a group of Marines trapped on a street; in Ramadi, he stared down insurgents with his pistol in close combat. Kyle talks honestly about the pain of war—of twice being shot and experiencing the tragic deaths of two close friends.

American Sniper also honors Kyle’s fellow warriors, who raised hell on and off the battlefield. And in moving first-person accounts throughout, Kyle’s wife, Taya, speaks openly about the strains of war on their marriage and children, as well as on Chris.


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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