A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that American Sniper is a Clint Eastwood-directed biopic of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a Navy SEAL sniper with the most confirmed kills on record. It's very intense and violent, with shootings, blood, mangled bodies, kids in danger, violence against children, explosions, and lots of general stress and tension. Language is likewise extremely strong, with frequent uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. Two adults have a sexual relationship and are intimate. They think about sex, and the woman is pregnant during the story, though nothing sensitive is shown. There's heavy drinking during an early scene set in a bar, to the point of vomiting. Parents will vary in their opinion of Kyle's heroism; he may be too violent for some, but his patriotism and service -- plus his assistance of veterans with PTSD -- may sway others. The movie also has a complex and subtle message about the war in Iraq; it's possible to see both sides of the argument.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
As a child, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was told that people are either sheep, wolves, or sheepdogs. He chooses to be a sheepdog and signs up to become a Navy SEAL. He meets and marries Taya (Sienna Miller), and after the 9/11 attacks, he's sent to Iraq. His mission is to protect his fellow SEALs, but his skill with a rifle is so awesome that he eventually breaks the record for the most confirmed kills in military history. Chris goes on to become a legend in Iraq and keeps signing up for more tours of duty, much to the despair of Taya and their children. When Chris finally decides to come home for good, he finds he can't get the war out of his head -- until he discovers that helping other veterans and victims of PTSD brings him solace.
Is it any good?
Clint Eastwood directs this fact-based story adapted from Chris Kyle's own memoir, and he gives it his usual strong touch -- uncluttered, confident, and without showing off. It's no surprise that the war footage is so brutally affecting, and it's no surprise that Cooper's performance is so striking. For the role, he bulks up and totally immerses himself into Chris; he's practically unrecognizable.
But what's so surprising about AMERICAN SNIPER is how subtly balanced it is. Chris' politics are firmly established. He believes that the war in Iraq is just and that he's protecting his country. But, as he did in the misunderstood J. Edgar (2011), Eastwood brilliantly inserts the character into a less black-and-white world in which there are no certainties. Chris is allowed to be totally human and sympathetic, regardless of his beliefs. Kathryn Bigelow's great The Hurt Locker covered similar territory, but American Sniper is different enough to be worthwhile.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about American Sniper's violence. How intense is it? How does it help to tell this particular story? Is it necessary?
Is Chris Kyle a role model? What are the arguments both for and against? Talk about the movie's idea of whether people are "sheep, wolves, or sheepdogs" -- what does that mean?
Why are movies about war appealing or interesting?
The movie is based on a true story. Do you think the filmmakers changed any facts? Why might they do that? How can you find out what's been altered?
- In theaters: December 25, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: May 19, 2015
- Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Jake McDorman
- Director: Clint Eastwood
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 134 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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