It’s not as good as some critics have proclaimed, and not as bad as detractors have warned. Clint Eastwood has made better films. His “Unforgiven” is a classic, with a taut story exploring and exposing human frailties. Other directors have made superior modern combat movies, like Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down.” With similar disparate settings—the battlefield and the home front—“Hurt Locker” remains the best post-September 11 effort and deserved its Oscar.
Both sides now . . .
Side one. “American Sniper” is pro-military, rah-rah-American, and cinematically posits that our boots-on-the-ground presence in Iraq (along with Afghanistan and other terrorist hot-spots) was, and is, righteous. With a confirmed 160 sniper kills, Chris Kyle was doing his civic-turned-military duty as he protected fellow soldiers and sailors. He wasn’t paid enough, or wasn’t interested enough, to ponder the political shades of gray. Kyle’s values were a “simple” trinity. God. Country. Family.
Though liberal on today’s political scales, even I laughed aloud when reading that Michael Moore (whose films I enjoy) labeled the sniper Kyle as a “coward.” In the nearly nothing I understand about combat, Kyle was one of a thousand essential cogs in the clunky machinery of the modern military. A sniper protects his buddies in urban, guerilla warfare. Eastwood’s film (and I don’t care about Kyle’s book in these thoughts) spends much of its time honoring one man’s limited view of God, country, and family. And, from Bradley Cooper, Eastwood received a memorable performance. Remember, Cooper played the cool guy in “Hangover” times three.
Side two. “American Sniper” is an anti-war film. As much as it was a Cooper tour-de-force in his portrayal of the real-life and really murdered Chris Kyle, the soul of the film rested with Sienna Miller’s Taya Kyle and the home front. She stated the painfully honest clichés . . . when you’re here, she confronted Kyle, you’re not really here. Her eyes and body language revealed the hollow nature and morally cancerous cost of the God-Country-Family military mantra. God becomes a convenient excuse. Country is so narrowly defined it ignores all complexity and diversity. Families are ruined. Indeed, becoming a Navy SEAL (or other “elite” military) is a nearly a guarantee of future marital and familial anguish.
Though I think “Hurt Locker” did it better, “American Sniper” also asks how Americans can continue to shop at malls, stroll supermarket aisles, whine about taxes, play golf (or in my case ride bicycles), watch “The Real Housewives of Who Cares,” and blithely pump cheap gas into SUVs while our teenagers are shipped into warzones. We fight cultures we don’t understand and kill untold numbers of people that (mostly) have never meant us any harm. Agree or disagree with the wars we have waged against “terrorists” and “terrorism” since the beginning of the 21st century, no politician worth his or her weight in pork barrels has ever asked home front Americans to make a sacrifice. We shove fast food down our throats while a generation of young men and women are riddled with bullets and face a lifetime of physical and psychological care from an understaffed, underfunded, overwhelmed Veteran’s Administration.
Clint Eastwood has fashioned a good, flawed film. It was based on a guy who probably led a good, flawed life. There is little about Chris Kyle I relate to—I don’t like to hunt, don’t like guns, didn’t see September 11 as a call to arms, etc.—save for one thing. And that one thing is more based on Bradley Cooper’s portrayal than anything I “know” about Chris Kyle. After all, my concern is my reaction to this film. Chris Kyle/Bradley Cooper visibly struggled with the lives he did not save. I would argue those lives were not solely American, but also the men, women, and children of Iraq. He was hailed for the number of kills he achieved. But Kyle—as Cooper played him—suffered every day because of the dead. And that, I completely understand.
War, the worst answer to any crisis, mass produces the dead. For all sides in the conflict, war guarantees generation after generation of misery, hatred, divisiveness and more suffering.