‘American Sniper’ is barely on target

From a director whose recent filmography is a bit worrisome, “American Sniper” is, for the most part, an emotionally compelling and solid tribute that reminds moviegoers of the raw talent Clint Eastwood (“Gran Torino”) and his cast are capable of.

“Sniper” documents the life of U.S. Navy Seal, Christopher Scott Kyle — he also authored the autobiography the biopic is adapted from. With a record of 160 kills and four tours served in Iraq, Kyle (played by Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper) is the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history.

“Sniper” often succeeds due to Cooper’s prodigious performance as The Legend, meticulously depicting Kyle’s lumbering and stoic persona. Cooper effectively resembles Kyle’s intimidation and experience on the battlefield and persuasively delivers on the more emotionally demanding scenes.

The Iraq-located prologue lets viewers know what kind of film they’re in for from the get-go — a very graphic and precise look at the grim life of its subject.

After that, Eastwood spends most of the first act introducing the audience to Kyle and what kind of protagonist he’ll be. Although Cooper and Sienna Miller’s — playing Kyle’s wife Taya — onscreen chemistry provides several effective moments, going through the majority of Kyle’s life before the peak of his career in the Navy SEALs at once resulted in a first act that’s slowly paced.

However, once the second act rolls in, “Sniper” starts to show its deadly accuracy in depicting Kyle’s firm patriotism and relentless sense of protection of those he watches through the scope of his rifle — serving as the guardian angel for many American soldiers.

What Eastwood does so well with “Sniper” is not including his own agenda and opinion on the Iraq War — it’s a war drama biopic that plays out as a character study. Instead of inserting the predictive social commentary in “Sniper,” he includes a bleak and violent look at the internal war most war veterans encounter.

“American Sniper” isn’t the money shot Eastwood and friends were looking for, but it’s a lethal piece of work to add on their belts.