It should be noted that it is almost impossible to review any film which covers any aspect of the War on Terror without comparing it to Zero Dark Thirty, Katherine Bigelow's masterful account of the ultimate mission for the United States in the Middle East: to hunt down and kill Osama bin-Laden. Chris Kyle himself has said in interviews that he wishes he had been assigned to SEAL Team 6, the team responsible for although he certainly did his share on Team 3 in killing various Iraqi insurgents. Nevertheless, on a filmic level, Clint Eastwood's steady, conventional and even-keeled style seems to underwhelm this material. Here we have the story of a man where the tagline is "the deadliest sniper in US military history," yet the bulk of the story seems to take this description for granted. In contrast to Zero Dark Thirty, the screenplay doesn't get into the specifics or details surrounding the complicated aspects of fighting terrorism on the enemies' home turf and the impact that has on American foreign policy as a whole. Indeed, much of the larger geopolitical themes are muted here in order to focus on the rather repetitive structure of showing Kyle's extraordinary ability to kill from astonishing lengths.
Of course, this is a much more focused type of story, but the character of Chris Kyle seems to be an archetype symbolizing American forces instead of a fully-realized individual. He exhibits typical behavior of any deployed soldier regarding guilt about dead soldiers as well as the conflict between needing to remain loyal to his family and his country. These are well-treaded conventions of recent war films, not the least of which is Bigelow's other intensified journey into the mind of the modern solider, The Hurt Locker. Kyle is very similar to Jeremy Renner's devoted and effective soldier who finds himself addicted to any form of combat as a drug, although the true story element does add a different understanding of the effects.
This is not to say that the film is made without a certain amount of professionalism and understanding. Bradley Cooper is very effective as Kyle, bulking up without looking too muscular or movie-hunkish. His acting focuses on the details of portraying a patriotic Texan, complete with the slow drawl, affection for beer and rodeo, as well as complete devotion to his wide-mouthed wife and growing family. Cooper's full range as an actor is on display here, complete with the dead-eye stare of a man who has seen horrors impossible to describe and feels an uncontrollable need to try and bring equilibrium to his life. Sienna Miller seems to have relegated herself recently to playing wives of real-life characters, having done so in Foxcatcher and here. She brings a glamorous quality to Taya, portraying her as a loving wife who puts the need for family stability above her husband's inner desire for combat and revenge.
It is this revenge element which many critics have leeched upon as evidence of Kyle's racist and jingoist attitude towards Iraqis and other Islamists. Although Eastwood does take a pretty apparent right-leaning view of the conflict, he nevertheless attempts to extricate any sort of moral judgment on Chris Kyle and his importance to the American hero mythology. The point of this story, to whatever effect it may have, is that one man saw himself not necessarily as the savior of freedom and democracy, but simply a soldier who followed the orders to protect fellow soldiers from behind, perched above with a high-powered rifle and an eagle eye. The impact this will have on the upcoming trial for Kyle's alleged murderer will undoubtedly be felt throughout the media. It will be interesting to note the recruiting effect of this movie as well. It's easy to imagine a lot of young men getting hyped for fighting through these images.