Clint Eastwood is an American treasure, simply put. His latest film, American Sniper, has been controversial for many reasons, and I’ll get into those in my article The Day Clint Eastwood Lied. For now, I’m here to review the movie he made, not the political statement made, and not to analyze Chris Kyle as a solider, or a man. Because, honestly, those aspects have nothing to do with whether or not American Sniper is a good movie. It is. A very good one, indeed. Full of emotion, tension, and a realistic depiction of the what it was like to be at war in the middle east.
Ultimately, this is not a war movie, though. It’s a biopic, and that’s the reason for a lot of the controversy. According to Kyle’s own daily reports, he was a mass murderer. This is indisputable fact. What is disputable, is whether solider should be held accountable for their actions, or if the people that involved soliders in a war in the first place should be accountable. Again, I’m saving a lot of that for my opinion piece, but it has a lot to do with the movie American Sniper. The movie starts off depicting Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) as a regular guy from Texas, and it takes a lot of measures to keep him in that light. He’s patriotic, first making the decision to look into the armed forces after the 1998 bombing at the American Embassy in Kenya. It follows as he works toward becoming a Navy SEAL, where he is ultimately called to duty during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Eastwood goes a long way to depict an understand of Kyle’s patriotic sense, and his upbringing that would lead him to become the deadliest sniper in American history. It follows as he meets a girl, and the anti-meet cute that they have. However, Kyle’s persistence in pursuing Taya Kyle (Sienna Miller) leads to a relationship, and eventually a family. For the most part though, Kyle the man takes a backseat to Kyle the soldier, and depicts him as being able to relate to his fellow soldiers easier than everyone else in his life, even his little brother, a fellow armed forces soldier that doesn’t seem to love the life like Kyle did.
The heart of the movie, however, lies in combat zones, where Kyle does what he did best: Kill. Unabashedly, and for long periods with resounding accuracy. Again, I won’t go into the politics behind this, I will stick to my opinion of the movie. These combat scenes are beyond intense, the decisions Kyle has to make, and shots he takes are admirable, while also being unenviable. Eastwood makes everything easier by being cut and dry, depicting enemy combatants as mostly faceless and ruthless, with the exception of the Syrian sniper known as Mustapha.
His scenes, providing a natural enemy for Kyle, are the most tense, and beg the largest questions of the movie. He is is the only enemy with a face, and although most of the middle eastern combatants are depicted as ruthless, Mustapha is ruthless for a reason, and depicted as the counterpoint to Kyle. He is the enemy in only a mindlessly patriotic sense, as Kyle is the enemy of those combatants, only even more deadly.
The finale is interesting, even though there is an action-filled finale, it’s not the ultimate climax to the movie. Everyone that knows anything about the story behind the movie is aware that ***DUMB SPOILER ALERT*** Chris Kyle dies on a gun range, but I though Eastwood made an interesting decision to not depict his death. It lends a lot to Kyle’s story as a man, and as “Legend”, as he was known by his fellow soldiers. I’m sure a part of that decision was out of respect to the Kyle family (who approved of the movie), but I think another part of it was to add to the mystique of the man, and to stay away from the fact that his death is still considered controversial because the motivation behind it is still not fully known (nor may it ever be). PTSD is said to have played a factor, but at the same time, there may have been political motivation behind it. Eastwood’s avoidance may be seen as a watering-down, but I think it was a good decision. The worst scenes of the movie are the ones making the assumption that Kyle was suffering from PTSD symptoms himself that he played down publicly and privately, because they make assumptions that are unfounded, except by Taya Kyle, who has reasons of her own to depict Kyle as such and deflect criticism of his character and motivations.
Still, that’s not what the movie is about, it’s about the price one man pays to be great at something, even if that something is killing from afar. It’s a tense thrill-ride throughout, and as long as this country is politically divided (always has been, likely always will be), it’s an important statement about the price paid for war, both in the deaths involved, and those who survive and the burdens they carry. The last thing I’ll mention is that the fake baby, while distracting, is really a non-issue. This is the type of thing the American media will focus on to deflect actual discussion about war. It was a fake baby, used because Eastwood is notorious as a problem-solver, and a fast worker that comes in on time and on budget. It’s a non-issue, unless you’ve never seen a movie before. If that’s the case, I can understand your confusion. Then again, if you’re confused by a fake baby, I’d hate to have to explain special effects and screen violence to you, because you’ll never wrap your head around it. Just shut up already.