Here’s an easy way to determine if American Sniper is the movie for you: Sean Hannity said it’s the best movie of the year. Like most issues, Mr. Hannity and I disagree. I certainly can see why he likes it–it takes a simple, black and white view of the war in Iraq, without any of the disturbing complexities, such as it was the wrong war at the wrong time, and it also presents the enemy as sub-human villains. Our hero, Chris Kyle, frequently talks about evil in the world. Yes, there is evil in the world, but it can be found everywhere, including right in the U.S.A.
American Sniper is the movie for pickup driving, country music-loving, Fox News watchers, and why not? They’re entitled to it. But the problem is is that it says nothing new about these wars, which were the longest lasting in American history. Furthermore, it says nothing about the main character, other than that he was a patriot and that he had communications problems with his wife. I’m hard pressed to understand why Clint Eastwood even made this movie.
The title character is Chris Kyle, played excellently by Bradley Cooper (he is the main reason to see the film). Kyle is a part-time rodeo rider (his day job is never shown) who decides to become a Navy SEAL after an American embassy is bombed. His motives, as presented by the screenplay, are pure. He is raised by a father who sees life in simple terms–there are three kinds of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs, and he wants his son to be the last.
Kyle, because of a gift for shooting, becomes a sniper, mostly sitting on rooftops, picking off those who would be a danger to his fellow troops. As the film opens, he is faced with having to kill a child and his mother, because they are carrying a grenade. After four tours of duty, he has 160 kills, a record, and a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Waiting at home for him is his wife (Sienna Miller) and their two children. She implores him to come home, saying he has done enough and should put his family first, but it’s not until his fourth tour, when he’s seen too many friends die, that he does finally come home. But he’s still on a hair-trigger, jumping when he hears a lawn mower start. He gets involved with the VA, but (spoiler if you haven’t heard the news) he is shot to death by a vet he is trying to help. As a side note, I find it fascinating that his death was not filmed. It took place after his book was published (there is nothing the in the film about the book) and is represented by a title card. It’s as if Eastwood couldn’t bear to show his hero’s death.
I watched all of this with a curious distance. I never felt particularly engaged, either in Kyle’s personal struggle or the battle scenes. Built into the film is a rivalry with an Iraqi sniper who won an Olympic medal for shooting. This kind of cowboy and Indian stuff sullies whatever message the film may have. Speaking of the enemy, I can understand that if you’re a soldier you think very little of your opposites, and may call them savages or worse. But for the film to make no effort to counterbalance this kind of language is reprehensible. A better film, Lone Survivor, at least takes into account that Arabs or Persians might actually be human beings.
Eastwood directs with no special flair. The older he gets the faster he makes films, and the scenes just kind of lie there. I’m afraid that unless you’re a real rah-rah kind of person, American Sniper is a real dud.
My grade for American Sniper: C-.