New Canaan News film critic Susan Granger reviews the new movie, "American Sniper:"

Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood ("Unforgiven," "Million Dollar Baby") is among our finest American filmmakers. Which is why, perhaps, so much is expected of each and every film he directs.

This somber story pays tribute to the late Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who has been acclaimed as the most deadly sharpshooter in U.S. military history, credited with 160 confirmed kills.

Set in Iraq, the opening scene is riveting as Kyle (Bradley Cooper) must decide whether to shoot a woman and a young boy. The same pivotal scene is repeated midway through the story -- at a time when it's far better understood.

Prior to that, however, there's the conventional biography. Where Kyle came from (Texas), how he met his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and why he nobly embarked on four tours of duty. Apparently, it all went back to Kyle's father's dictum that the world is divided into three types: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs.

Devoted to God, country and family (in that order), Kyle envisioned himself as a sheepdog, protecting others, while his expertise earned the nickname "The Legend." But when he eventually returned home, after eliminating Mustafa (Sammy Sheik), the Syrian-born marksman who was terrorizing U.S. troops, Chris Kyle suffered post-traumatic stress, like many other soldiers.

Episodically scripted by Jason Hall, based on Chris Kyle's autobiography, written with Scott McEwan and Jim DeFelice, it's a respectful, yet ambitious examination of what compelled Kyle to fight, the toll violence takes on the soul and what it cost him to recover his humanity after nearly a decade at war.

Bradley Cooper ("Silver Linings Playbook," "American Hustle") bulked up to play rugged Kyle, and while there are surprises -- like how often soldiers called their loved ones on Sat phones in the midst of combat -- most of the plot is not only predictable but recalls themes that have been explored before, like in Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker."

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "American Sniper" is a solid, if stilted 6, a sad, serious study of the effects of brutality and violence.

- For more about movies and theater, check the website: www.susangranger.com.