american-sniperBradley Cooper is gunning for that golden statue (no pun intended) — that’s what I get from this performance.

The 39-year-old actor completely embodies patriotic to a fault Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. From his drastic physical transformation to convincingly portraying the emotional roller coaster the troubled war veteran endured, Cooper seemed fully committed to this part.

The film begins with one of its most tense scenes — Chris lays on a roof in Iraq, in position during his first tour, watching as a woman and a small boy approach a regiment of marines. The woman appears to be carrying something, what looks to be an explosive device. She hands it off to the little boy who continues walking toward the U.S. soldiers.

No one can confirm what Chris believes he sees — a child approaching with an explosive device. He takes aim for the shot, knowing the devastating consequences if he’s wrong and he shoots. He pulls the trigger and the gun goes off… killing a deer, as we’ve jumped to a flashback of Chris with his dad and younger brother hunting, thankfully breaking the tension of that moment – for now.

In another flashback, his dad tells him that there are three kinds of men: sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs. Sheep are defenseless. Wolves are cruel and find pleasure in picking on those that are weaker than they are. The sheep dogs defend others, using their strength only for good. He then tells his sons that he isn’t raising any sheep, and he’ll take a belt to any wolves. So they need to decide who they want to be. This lesson seems to motivate Chris throughout his life as a soldier.

But before he gets there, he travels around the rodeo circuit, trying to live out his dream of being a cowboy. One day a terrorist attack abroad and a rude awakening from a cheating ex-girlfriend inspire him to look into defending his country, which is how he ends up in training to become a Navy SEAL at 30 years old.

The film catalogues his four tours in Iraq, jumping back and forth between the war zone and Chris’s growing struggle to leave it behind when he’s back at home.

Chris is a hero-type, a patriot who truly believes one man can save the world and wants to do his best to make that effort, no matter the cost. His desire to protect his country is addressed frequently throughout the film.

Midway through the film an incident leaves Chris, who, by his own ideals is naturally fueled with an insatiable desire to “get the bad guys,” with a hunger for vengeance. His struggle at home becomes even worse because any time he’s there he isn’t fighting to get the bad guys.

The film is almost horror movie suspenseful at times, with a particular scene – which has the men venturing out on a mission in a sandstorm – leaving theater-goers on the edge of their seats (or just flat on the floor).

At times the film is uncomfortably violent, which maybe should have been expected of the story of a man whose official kill count is over 160, but it was still shocking.

It’s a heavy watch, depicting the horror of war criminals, the weight of taking a life, and the way that being in a war zone changes a person.

Sienna Miller does a wonderful job playing Chris’s wife Taya, who flips between being lovesick over her caring, southern gentleman, and distraught over the loss of her husband – even when they’re standing in the same room.

Luke Grimes and Jake McDorman both offer comic relief – especially the latter – with the former acting as an introspective guide, reflecting a light on the harrowing realities of war.

In the end Bradley Cooper completely draws you into Chris Kyle’s story, his amazing, unbelievable, and heart-wrenching story. He transformed into the legendary sniper, enabling a movie that clocks in at 132 minutes to fly by, it’s so engrossing.

It’s not an easy film to watch, but only because of the way in which it depicts the harsh realities that Chris must have faced. The acting is superb, and American Sniper is well worth that $15 movie ticket.