Is American Sniper Eastwood’s Final Opus?

Bradley Cooper stars in American Sniper, a film based on the life of Chris Kyle. Photo Courtesy: Village Roadshow Pictures
Bradley Cooper stars in American Sniper, a film based on the life of Texas native and former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Photo Courtesy: Village Roadshow Pictures

With more than 50 years in the business, more than 70 movies under his belt, and 4 Oscars on his mantle, Clint Eastwood still takes one more shot.

By Ethan Harmon

Clint Eastwood is a name that, somehow, is able to bridge a significant generational gap. Whether you remember the six-shooting, gun-slinging of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, feeling very lucky while facing a .44 magnum in the Dirty Harry films, or watching his Oscar-winner Million Dollar Baby, everyone knows the name Clint Eastwood. The actor/director has seen a massive rise over the last several decades, particularly on the directorial front.

After stunning audiences with Million Dollar Baby – which won four Oscars and several other awards – Eastwood would go on to direct several other films, all of which shined a spotlight on social issues, historical monuments, and human nature while also receiving massive critical acclaim. Now, Eastwood is releasing his latest picture, American Sniper, although in limited release, which begs the question: Is this the last one? Is this the final opus to the legendary actor and director?

Well, put simply, the answer could possibly be “yes.” And, not to sound too rude, but this could be due to age. Yes, Eastwood is now 84, and still pushing the limits of cinema. And pushed he has, housing one of the most impressive Hollywood careers ever. But he cannot continue to do this forever. With a library of westerns and action thrillers in his corner, a load of well-received directorial ventures, and awards sitting on a night stand, Eastwood would be in good standing to cap off his career with this final picture.

Yet let’s consider the main theme surrounding Eastwood’s movies, or at least, the ones he’s directed. Many, if not all, of his films center around the ideals of the “American Dream” and what it truly means. Whether it’s the personal sacrifice and struggle to maintain and secure it, the suffering and ultimate triumph because of it, the revelations of our inner-selves and personal growth due to it, Eastwood always finds a way to place our minds, and our hearts with the ideals and feelings surrounding the “American Dream.” It’s what he’s grown up believing, along with many of us, and it is his symbol. It’s the very thing that drives his films, and what inspires his work. It’s what captivates audiences and draws flocks of people to flood into movie theaters. And this is why it’s fitting for American Sniper to be his final piece.

For those who do not know, American Sniper reenacts the real-life events, and battles, of the now famous Chris Kyle, the Texas native and former Navy SEAL with more than 150 recorded kills. The trailer, although very  minimalist, houses an incredible amount of drama, intensity, and expression, particularly regarding familial sacrifice, honor, freedom, and all of the glory and sadness that comes with it. The film stars Bradley Cooper, an Oscar nominee and Hollywood powerhouse, not to mention household name. Cooper, at least in the trailer, portrays Kyle with passion and vigor.

American Sniper will only see a limited release when it comes out on Christmas Day, which means theaters will be packed with the lucky few who get tickets to fill those seats. This is not necessarily an independent film, per se, but it will not fit into the mainstream spectrum, let alone feature a massive amount of promotion and advertisement. In  fact, the film, even with its star power, is rather unknown amongst moviegoers.

But it’s due to the star power of Eastwood and Cooper that this film more than likely will shine and become an instant classic within the movie theaters crowded with see-it-and-forget-it blockbusters. It should be no surprise that American Sniper already is generating a lot of buzz within the Hollywood circuit, and there has even been mention of Oscars in its future. Again, this is no surprise due to its subject matter and those involved in the project.

Will the drama of an American hero elevate this crew, and Eastwood, to the height of Oscars? It remains to be seen, but it does seem extremely plausible.

Although this movie does carry a lot of weight, both with its cast and on a metaphorical level, the trailer seems to display a more personal message. Within the flashes of a loving, and potentially shattered personal life, between the bullets and horrors of war, there seems to be something a little extra buried inside of American Sniper; something that is itching to be seen and analyzed and talked about. It almost seems as if Eastwood has chosen this story, this script, this film to become the message of his departure. There are shots of family and happiness (perhaps a metaphor of his early years as a young actor). There are shots of sadness (maybe representing the hardships  throughout a stellar career). There are depictions of loss, and there is the main focus, which is a sniper doing what he does best, just as the director is doing what he does best.

Perhaps, and this may be a bit of a reach, the film itself has been crafted not only to entertain those who watch it, but also explain and somewhat chronicle the life and times of a man who experienced something – not similar – but  correlated with this true story. It could be a possibility that American Sniper was chosen for a very specific purpose; one outside of just telling of an actual American sniper.

Now, this brings us back to the original point, and what this film may mean. This film already seems to encapsulate all of the symbolism and themes that are readily present in other Eastwood films. It is easily an Oscar contender and will pull in droves of local movie-goers – although not box-office-shattering numbers due to its limited release. And it seems to be a film that holds a personal message.

Will this be the final opus, the grand finale of Clint Eastwood? Will he put everything into one last movie, leaving audiences begging for more, before walking away for good? It seems very likely, almost guaranteed, that this will be the one to end the career of the Hollywood legend.

It’s not a bad thing. This is a man who has been a star for decades. This is a man who has blown audiences away with his movies, both the ones he has starred in and directed. And this is a man who has become a walking legend of the silver screen. American Sniper may be the one to end it, but it should not be thought of with sadness, but instead with a smile. For Clint Eastwood to create this film, and to end it with a statement and go out in a blaze of glory, is  something to be celebrated and something to be admired. Go see this movie when it comes out, then go back and  watch all of the old classics that led up to this moment.