He might not make an impact with his portrayal of rugby (Invictus), spirituality (Hereafter) or larger-than-life figures (J. Edgar), but Clint Eastwood is a cine-messiah when crafting stories about war (Flags of Our FathersLetters from Iwo Jima), pride (Million Dollar Baby) and erroneous depictions of what makes a man a legend (Unforgiven). Thankfully, American Sniper stays true to the finest aspects of his career.

Real-life sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) has over 160 confirmed kills, earning him the nickname ‘Legend’. Considering how some of those kills involved women and children, it’s a label he does not embrace. Eastwood expertly displays the horror, the tragedy and the wild complexity of warfare without taking a side on the ethics and morality of the Iraq conflict, allowing us to interpret the events ourselves.

Kyle is granted no such luxury. What he sees, hears, and participates in prompt so many questions in his mind, questions that are shut down with a simple “job well done” and “you’re doing your country proud”. This cognitive dissonance has him stranded on a mental landmine, causing him to curl up into an emotionless shell. He carries this numbness back home to his growing family, making the living room as tense as the battlefield.

Bradley Cooper proved he was dedicated to this role by gaining Wolverine levels of mass. But when we witness Kyle’s mental anguish, delivered with restraint of the highest degree, it becomes resoundingly clear how dedicated – and unquestionably talented – he is.

Occasionally bad CGI deflates moments of tension, with one distractingly cartoonish use of ‘bullet time’ undermining a crucial scene in the third act. But these are merely the untied shoelaces to a well-dressed biopic of a modern US soldier who should be admired – not for his record-breaking kill count, but for how he managed to overcome that curse.

‘American Sniper’ movie times