American Sniper

Last night I watched AMERICAN SNIPER.  There had been so much heat and very little light around this movie that I had been feeling ambivalent about seeing it.  It’s absolutely worth seeing.  It’s a masterful piece of film making with Clint Eastwood getting out of the way and letting the story unfold in all its brutal detail.  Bradley Cooper did a phenomenal job of portraying Chris Kyle his loss of humanity, his grief over that loss, and his fight to regain it cut short by the bullet of another deeply damaged and mentally scarred veteran.  To watch Kyle go from a charming, rather chatty man to a figure lost in silence and grief with this constant uncomfortable throat clearing that precedes the few words he will utter was very well done.

At its heart this is a character study of this one man and how he is damaged by the war he volunteered to fight.  Whether it’s pro-war or anti-war depends on the prism through which you view it.  If you want to see it as a rah rah, USA!  USA! you can, but truthfully I think Eastwood meant it and it’s true when he said it’s an anti-war movie.

It’s no secret that ultimately soldiers fight to protect their buddies.  They may have enlisted for god and country and all those other ideals, but once they are in combat they fight for the man or woman next to them in the foxhole.  That is so clearly and beautifully demonstrated in this movie.

The problem for Kyle was he was denied that sense of belonging and his isolation and loneliness is exemplified by his physical separation from the men Kyle is protecting.  They are in squads going door to door.  He’s on a rooftop often alone or with only a spotter with him knowing that the men in the streets below him are depending on him to keep them alive.  How burdensome it must be to be the “guardian angel”, and the guilt when you fail was presented as crushing.  Even the title they give him “The Legend” ends up separating him from his peers.  All of this Eastwood presents in this elegant, understated way.

It’s pretty much agreed by the majority of the American people that the invasion of Iraq was a disastrous move for this country, but this movie isn’t about that decision and the men who made it.  It’s about one man who thought he was doing the right thing to protect his family and his country.  Eastwood doesn’t ignore the doubts and the questions.  They  are there, expressed in the voice of Kyle’s brother who says in anguish “I don’t know why we’re here?”  There is some mention of the fact the citizens of Iraq are fighting against people they perceive of as invaders.

It does seem that much of the criticism has arisen over the portrayal of the Iraqi people, and I can’t argue with that.  They’re cyphers and none more so than the Iraqi sniper with whom Kyle has a personal duel.  This was added as a way to personalize the situation.  I get that, but I kept wondering as I looked at the etched profile of the “enemy” sniper, his dark eyes and long lashes, if he was undergoing to the same destruction to his soul and mind as his American counterpart?  Did he have a wife and children wishing he would come home.  Wondering what had happened to the man they knew?  Should that have been dramatized?  Maybe, but this was a character study so the focus was kept tight on Kyle and his situation.  If Eastwood had zoomed out to the enemy then it becomes a different film.

Was Kyle an admirable person?  Hero or villain?  For the men whose lives he saved they would say hero.  To the relatives of the people he killed a villain.  What I think this movie was trying to portray was that he was neither.  He was just a very fallible human being in an impossible, soul destroying situation.  The tragedy and horrible irony is that he was killed by a man he was trying to help.  A man who had also been seared and brutalized by this unnecessary war.


2 Responses to American Sniper

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    One other point. I watched this with three other people. One of them a fellow screenwriter. Usually we kibbutz and discuss. “Oh, I liked that scene.” “Nice dialogue.” We watched this film in utter silence. We were like people at a funeral because I certainly felt like I was watching a man being destroyed.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I found an interesting review that finds the film morally repugnant and I think makes some very valid points so I’m linking to it here.

    I realized after reading it that there was a way to contextualize the war and how it was unnescessary by showing a scene when Kyle realizes that were no WMD. Since this was a fictionalize Kyle it could have been added and reminded people that this war was sold on false premises.

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