Today I spent an hour reading tweets about American Sniper. I know that’s never a good idea but it proved fascinating in the sheer number of messages viewers got from the film. Is it a murder glorifying jingoist propaganda piece or is it another ‘war is hell’ story? Director Clint Eastwood doesn’t provide any definitive answer to this and its this aspect that raises American Sniper above other recent war films.
The movie is based on the true story of Chris Kyle (an excellent Bradley Cooper), a Navy Seal sniper who racked up the most kills of any US soldier during the Iraq conflict. Kyle achieved 160 confirmed kills during his four tours of duty, a number that surely had some toll on Kyle’s state of mind. Most of the film takes place in Iraq during engagements with Iraqi insurgents as we see Kyle gun down man after man from hundreds of feet away. Just watching this made me think about how detached Kyle must have felt from what he was doing. Did the distances between him and the enemy diminish the psychological impact of so many kills? These are questions that Eastwood leaves the viewer to answer.
Kyle isn’t the most emotive person so Cooper’s performance is essentially internalised meaning its hard to read his motives and views on the conflict. We sit back, watch him kill a lot of people, without his intentions being signposted to us. Its a clever move by the director and I can imagine him chuckling at both the folks hailing American Sniper as a patriotic classic and those people screaming about it being murderous propaganda. Which of these groups is correct? The answer lies somewhere in the middle.
American Sniper is a good film that stands away from politics and let’s you formulate your own opinion. Personally I find it a sad story of a man serving his country in an unnecessary war and becoming a merciless killer. If that makes you feel proud of your country then that’s a worrying by-product of the piece. For a movie about a true war hero who never killed one person watch The Intimidation Game instead. American Sniper may leave you feeling dirty but its still a gripping piece of cinema.
Have you seen American Sniper? Is it glorifying US military actions or is it a comment on the effect of conflict on soldiers? Let me know what you think in the comments below.