Bradley Cooper's physical transformation into American Sniper's Chris Kyle—swollen up like a parade balloon with a bushy beard and a thick backcountry Texas accent—represents a new career best. More impressive, though, is his stillness. Whether at the center of a battlefield in Fallujah or quietly suffering through PTSD at a backyard barbecue, Cooper is practically a statue until he decides to put that monolithic body into motion, first as a Navy SEAL, and then as the sniper with the most confirmed kills in United States military history.

The rest of American Sniper doesn't rise to Cooper's exalted standard. Clint Eastwood's celebrated get-the-shot-and-move-on directorial style has devolved from no-nonsense to simply undiscerning—the image of Kyle consoling an obviously rubber prop baby is the most laughable offense.

Kyle views the invasion of Iraq as a simple case of good guys versus bad guys, and Eastwood congratulates him for it, sidestepping the sniper's real-life darkness—his autobiography (from which the film is adapted) refers to killing the "savages" as "fun" and boasts of killing looters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—to mount the case for Kyle as an American hero, full stop. If Eastwood were interested in more than hagiography, it could've been a definitive cinematic statement on the Iraq invasion. Instead, it's another forgettable one, with a brilliant performance at its center. recommended