"American Sniper" revolves around a herculean performance by Bradley Cooper, a searing and rather jaw-dropping transformation into the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. He captures the physicality, the quiet and simmering intensity, in such comprehensive fashion that it leaves you stunned.

Cooper's work might not be enough to propel Clint Eastwood's uneven movie to a place where its flaws can be fully forgiven, but it will dispel any doubts that a man once regarded as capable of playing little beyond one-dimensional sleazy types is one of the most interesting actors around.

The film adapts Kyle's memoir, chronicling some of his hundreds of kills during the course of multiple tours of duty in Iraq over the previous decade. It crosses into "Hurt Locker" territory in its portrait of a warrior at his finest in combat and struggling, grasping for a purpose when he's back home stateside with wife Taya (Sienna Miller).

Eastwood directs with authenticity and a healthy dose of tension during the war scenes; the movie does an admirable job of conveying the split-second, life-or-death decision making required of Kyle and his ilk. The picture's missing larger scope and context, though. It's not clear why the film needs to exist; the story itself isn't really compelling enough and the filmmaker remains agnostic as ever when it comes to expressing a point of view.

American Sniper

2.5 stars

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Rated R