Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper ★★★
‘I just want to get the bad guys, but if i can’t see them I can’t shoot them.’
BRADLEY COOPER delivers a spectacular performance in this suspenseful contemporary account of war; however, it is difficult to assimilate this film in a black and white sort of way – good or bad. Ironically, that is how Eastwood presents war – good guys and bad guys with nothing in the middle. A simplistic, blindly patriotic interpretation of an extremely complicated subject matter combined with a gross alteration of the truth, this film undoes its achievements in terms of cinematic spectacle through the annoying yet inevitable presence of political and moral concerns.
Much akin to the famous ‘shutting your butt down’ interview with Quentin Tarantino, to what extent is a director held accountable for the possible political and moral implications their film has in the real world? With movies such as The Interview causing worldwide uproar and panic, Quentin Tarantino and all other directors must surely understand the empowered position they hold in delivering messages through their art form. Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has invited a whole host of questions regarding the position and the responsibilities of a director in the wider society.
Ultimately, American Sniper delivers a message that the patriotic American is good, and the hateful, evil Muslim is bad. It is a film that instills hatred, propagates the US army, and hails a former navy SEAL as a hero due to his hatred being so strong that he supposedly killed more than 255 people during his career. In his book, Chris Kyle, the protagonist of the film, described killing as ‘fun’, and something that he really enjoyed. He also did not hold back from expressing his severe hatred of Iraqis, calling them ‘savages’. Of course, the film wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if Clint Eastwood’s Chris Kyle was like the real man; in fact, it is almost futile to mention that this film is based on a true story as the film is so far removed from the truth. For this reason, although some impact might be lost, thinking the film as entirely a work of fiction might allow a cinema goer to enjoy the film more, without any moral and political crises.
American Sniper opens with a tense moral dilemma, which most of us have already seen in the heart pounding trailer. Shoot the kid or not. I am pretty sure that every time that trailer has been played, an overwhelming silence fills the room, as each person listens intently to the heartbeat, the heavy breathing and the few words spoken over comms. That feeling of suspense is present throughout American Sniper, heightened by a tremendous performance by Bradley Cooper. Although it is hard to ignore the political sentiments and moral ambiguities in the film, Eastwood really does bring the horrors of war home. It is an exploration of Chris Kyle’s extremely troubled mind and how to deal with it, veterans being a topic of expertise for Eastwood as seen in Flags of our Fathers. Eastwood documents Kyle’s life from wanting to be a cowboy, to witnessing 9/11 on television, to joining the SEALS and becoming ‘The Legend’.
This film oozes patriotism; it might as well just be a 2 hour show of bugles sounding against an American flag which is swaying in the wind in slow motion. Nominated for 6 oscars, including best picture, this film is far more controversial, provocative and egotistic than Fox News…in fact, Fox News probably have this film listed as one of their favourites.
Taken as a stand alone movie, without politics, American Sniper is a decent, edge of the seat war film (that still blows smoke up the arse of the US). Take the film within its political context and it is a misguided form of propaganda to further create a dichotomy between east and west, and which, intentionally or otherwise, will instill more hate and racism in our own countries. In fact, this hate and racism has already erupted in response to this film.
An exciting, suspenseful war movie whilst watching that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth upon reflection.