By Devon Shuman, For The Miami student

When an actor gives a poor performance, the audience becomes totally aware that what we’re watching isn’t real. When an actor gives a good performance, they convince us. We say, “Man, how great was Liam Neeson in ‘Taken?’”

What separates the good from the great, however, is an actor’s ability to make us believe so completely that not until after the credits roll do we even consider there was a Hollywood actor behind it. This is the rare feat Bradley Cooper achieves in Clint Eastwood’s latest, “American Sniper.”

It’s hard to believe anyone could have ever predicted that the pretty-boy jerk from “The Hangover” trilogy would be able to play the role of Chris Kyle, the muscle-bound Navy SEAL from Texas whose 160 confirmed kills make him the most lethal sniper in American history.

For two hours and 12 minutes, nobody in the audience sees the actor from “Wedding Crashers,” they see an all-American man with a Texas drawl whose love for his country is as grand as his desire to protect it.

After visiting Kyle’s family, Cooper and director Clint Eastwood were determined to preserve and honor his legacy.

Cooper chose an incredibly intense training regimen to prepare. In addition to gaining 40 pounds, he spent several hours everyday with a voice coach to nail Kyle’s accent. He even trained with Navy SEAL sniper Kevin Lacz, and was eventually able to consistently hit targets at 800 yards.

From Kyle’s pre-military life watching the 9/11 attacks on the news, through his four tours in Iraq, he had one need he was doomed to fulfill: he wanted to save everyone. While his 160 kills preserved countless American lives, it was never enough for him. Like Kevin Costner’s character in “The Guardian,” the number that always troubled him was the number of lives he didn’t save.

Where Cooper truly shines is in his scenes between tours. Although it would be easy to assume that a soldier would savor this time spent at home with his wife (wonderfully played by Sienna Miller) and kids, it’s unbearable for him to sit idly knowing his fellow soldiers are being killed overseas. Watching Cooper portray this heart-wrenching struggle will bring a tear to the eyes of even the most hardened moviegoers.

As for the film as a whole, don’t go in expecting a cliché, patriotic war film. There is no dramatic fight music, no daring rescue missions, no epic final battle scene. This is a look at modern combat that is as gritty, gruesome and chaotic as the war itself. At times, you will cringe and squirm in your seat and this was undoubtedly Eastwood’s intention.

While the word “hero” is often overused, the movie shows Kyle for who he was: a true American hero. Without a doubt, both Cooper and Eastwood have produced one of the best films of their careers.