American Sniper chronicles the life of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper), labeled the most deadly American Sniper credited with over 160 confirmed kills during his 4 tours in Iraq. Director Clint Eastwood paints a haunting picture of war and its effects on the home and the brave. He has called this film ‘anti-war’ in tenor. It’s not that simple.
If you are looking for a patriotic defense of the Iraqi war, look no further than the mouth of Chris Kyle himself. “They are savages. I’m over here to protect my guys and protect them from coming over to our land. It’s not just about this sandbox.” Kyle saw his role of protector of soldiers even though that distinction gets cloudy in the movie’s final scenes.
If you are looking for a more subtle anti-war movie than say Born on the Fourth of July, American Sniper may fill that role as well. Eastwood doesn’t hide the casualties of war – physical, emotional, or spiritual. He puts us in the middle of the damage. We experience the loss of friends, the loss of intimacy and the ability to connect with the real world. War is not glorified or romanticized. There is this incredible sense of loss that hangs over the entire movie – all the way through the credits.
Eastwood paints a nuanced picture. It’s not John Wayne waving the American flag. It’s not Oliver Stone storming the Republican Convention either. While Kyle absolutely comes off as a hero, war is in no way glorified or romanticized. The film offers no answer to the question of is war ever justified. It painfully shows the truth about war. It is hell. There are no winners, only survivors.
The film starts with the scene made famous in the trailers – Chris Kyle looking at a mother and son through the scope of his sniper rifle. He alone has to decide if they constitute a real threat or not. A flashback interrupts the scene showing us how he got there – as a kid, as a young man, in BUDS training.
At this point in the movie, I am in full fledge panic. I hate flashback movies. I can’t stand seeing the end of the movie at the beginning of the movie and then spending the next 90 minutes working back up to the beginning of the movie which is really the end of the movie. It’s pretty much the most hideous way ever to make a film. There are some rare – VERY RARE – exceptions. So rare, I can’t even think of one off the top of my head. I start thinking of all the guys who told me this movie was great and I should go see it. They will definitely be getting a little something special from me when this is all over.
Then in about 15 minutes, it flashes right back to the same point and the story is told in chronological order from that point on. Huge burden relieved.
Clocking in at over 2 hours long. it doesn’t feel like a long movie. The film doesn’t box you in like The Hurt Locker or Saving Private Ryan. This isn’t a non-stop train of action and suspense. There are moments to catch your breath, to regroup. Nothing is wasted either – these moments are also showing the effects of war after the weapon is put away.
The movie presents its share of moral dilemmas. Chris has a firm belief in God and even carries a Bible around with him but we never see him open it nor do we see any kind of moral or religious behavior from him. There is one soldier who states this fact and it is him who writes a letter questioning the morality of war. The strong religious code of Islam that sits on the other side of the rifle isn’t even mentioned. The enemy is shown as a heartless torturer of women and children. In the end, both Christianity and Islam are both painted with very shallow strokes, both come off looking very violent.
The film is well made, the story is well told. The language is rough, however, the violence is not over the top. While I wish there would have been a bit more nuanced handling of the reason for war, Eastwood delivers one clear message that all can agree with.
There are no winners in war. Only survivors. Everyone comes home wounded.