One Shot’s All it Takes

“American Sniper” star Bradley Cooper on Working with Director Clint Eastwood

Classically good-looking, very blue-eyed Bradley Cooper has been popping up in movies for almost a decade and a half. You’ll recognize a young Cooper playing Ben in 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer, then there were TV movies, TV series and lead part in the Midnight Meat Train.

Yeah, you read the title right, and no, you don’t ever have to see that film. Note: It’s on a marquee of a cinema Cooper walks by in Silver Linings Playbook.

Speaking of which he was Oscar nominated, Cooper has really been more of an ensemble actor. The spotlight has been on him often, but he’s never really held a film on his own.

Until now, in American Sniper, under the direction of Clint Eastwood (making his best, tightest movie in years), he plays Chris Kyle, the real life marksman and Navy SEAL who became known as one of the greatest shooters in the Iraq war.

As Kyle sets his gun sights on the enemy in the film, so too does Eastwood set his camera sights on Cooper. This is an intense character study within an intense war film. It’s also Cooper’s best work to date. He recently spoke about it in Los Angeles.

Ed Symkus Besides starring in this film, you also produced it. What drew you to the project?

Bradley Cooper Movies for me have always been healing, and I love storytelling so much. We fell into a situation here where we had the opportunity to tell this man’s story, who was a very charismatic, dynamic human being. It’s not a movie about the Iraq war. It’s a movie about what someone like Chris has to go through as a soldier, and the delimma and the horror of it, and the battle internally and what he went through with his family (at home).

There’s a lot to make it something that you want to watch, but the takeaway, for those who can relate to him, will be that maybe it’ll be healing for a Vet who’s gone through similar things that Chris went through.

ES You really look like you know what you’re doing in this film. What kind of prep work did you go through to play Chris?

BC Here’s the thing about acting. I had three months, and I had to choose what to become comfortable with. And the thing that we talked about choosing was the weapons, three sniper rifles – the Mark 11, the .338 lapua, and the .300 Win. Mag. – and being dexterous with those three. Because you’re watching [Chris] on the gun, so I really focused on getting into the mindset of what it would be like to be a sniper. Not so much about the training of becoming a Navy SEAL, which I would have loved to have done.

But we only had three months, and I sort of supplemented that with weight training. So it was about the guys who were training me, with live ammo, with those three weapons.

ES This is the first time you’ve worked with Clint Eastwood, who has a reputation of shooting a scene, getting it done and moving on to the next one, rather than doing take after take. What was your experience with him?

BC First of all, you’re really excited to come on the set every day beause Clint Eastwood’s there. That never gets old. It was amazing. But sometimes you do movies and you feel, “Well, I’m warming up on the first three [takes], and then we’ll get into it on seven and eight, and we’ll sort of feel it out.” But that wasn’t happening on this movie, at all. You better bring it, on the first take. Clint will ask you how you feel and if you want to move on. He’ll probably ask you why, and he’ll either say yes or no, do another one. But the truth is there weren’t any more than one or two takes in this film, and then you move on. You have to show up ready.

I learned that when I made two movies with David O. Russell, with David, when you’d step out of the van in the morning, you’d better be able to shoot the scene from the moment your foot touches the ground. So I’m very well equipped in that way, and have come to love it, because there’s an energy and a vitality and a sense of it’s actually happening. I think if I ever get a chance to direct, I would always want to do that. You know, never make them feel that they have a hundred takes; make them feel like this is it. WSJ

Movie Review: A Sniper’s Life in the Scope
Review by ASJ Chris Cocoles

Even for the most gifted filmmakers – Clint Eastwood has been there, done that – and most convincing of actors – Bradley Cooper is trending up, and away now – when you realistically have roughly two hours to tell a complex story, you can’t always do it justice.

Still, American Sniper does what it sets out to do and then some. It’s a movie not everyone will like and some will adore. But – and I’m no movie critic, just a fan of film, so take everything I’m saying as such – it’s something everyone should see; wait until DVD release if you must, but experience Chris Kyle’s wild ride and make your own conclusion about this man. I saw the first possible showing of American Sniper nationwide release, and a day later I’m still not sure what to think.

Perhaps that’s the genius of Eastwood’s sequencing in bringing Kyle’s book of the same name about his experiences as our military’s deadliest sniper to the big screen. You see alternating sides of Kyl (Academy Award-nominated Cooper) – his four tours to the Middle East as a Navy SEAL marksman blessed (or cursed?) as the “Legend” his comrades trust most to protect them from feared suicide bombers in Iraq. Then, he somehow tries to live his life at home with the woman he fell in love during his training in Southern California, heartbreaking Taya (Sienna Miller). They have started a family, and after a pregnant Taya endures a harrowing cellphone call from her husband interrupted by gunshots, chaos and the frightening reality that her and Chris’s future is a mistake away form being wiped out in a heartbeat.

The movie begins with Kyle on an Iraqi rooftop, dirt that “tastes like dog (poop)” clouding the rubble-covered streets. A woman and a young boy appear in front of a tank unit. The scope from Chris’s rifle reveals a disturbing scene; the woman pulls what looks like a grenade from her pocket and hands it to the boy. He’s told it’s going to be his call whether to pull the trigger. His spotter, Goat, warns if Chris is wrong and these people hold no threat, “this is your ass in Leavenworth.”

Eastwood didn’t make the cut for a Best Director Oscar nomination last month, but the movie works thanks in large to Cooper. After watching obnoxious performances Wedding Crashers and then the fast-fading Hangover trilogy (exhibit a why a classic comedy doesn’t always need to be soured by two bad sequels), I didn’t expect to think that three years later I’d be wondering how great of an actor Bradley Cooper has developed into.

Kyle comes home after some of his first two tours and can’t escape the sights and sound of battle, whether it’s a lawn mower outside his home or the sound of a torque wrench as the family car is serviced at the garage. How does even the toughest of Texans transition between chasing suspected terrorists and facing moral dilemmas of shooting children and turning off that switch upon returning home? Cooper’s Kyle struggles at times, going so far as banging on a maternity room window when his crying infant daughter is temporarily unattended.
You get an early sense of his purpose in the Middle East than when he’s around Taya and the kids. But even Chris finally tell his wife over the phone amid more pending madness and violence, “I’m ready to go home.”

And just when he seems happy at home, back in Texas (which Eastwood has too little time to dive into but provides a taste of Kyle’s relationship with his dad), you’re reminded about the cost of what many of these men and women absorbed in Iraq and Afghanistan. – Chris Cocoles

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