First: I had no idea who Chris Kyle was before going into the movie. I knew that it was based on a true story but I didn’t know all the details.
Second: I’m not American. I live in Italy and on top of that I’m fairly critical of patriotism, which I believe can sometimes blind you.
Third: I know all the considerations about what Chris Kyle was really like. Some say he was a psycho, others a saint, yadda yadda yadda. I’m going to judge American Sniper on its own grounds as a movie and a story. Nothing else.
So let me start with my final consideration before going into the detailed review: I liked American Sniper, found it a greatly filmed, acted and edited movie, made with the purpose of making you think. Also, if this was supposed to be a patriotic movie it’s the least patriotic movie I’ve ever seen.
Let’s start with the obvious things: Clint Eastwood still got it and he proved it with this movie. While the scenes where Kyle is living his life at the beginning aren’t exactly exciting or interesting, once he gets deployed? The film was made in Morocco and while the place provided the necessary authenticity to the surroundings, it’s Eastwood’s great directing that recreates the feelings of a battleground. And the editing… Oh my god, the editing. So good. We had shootouts in the middle of the night. A firefight with a sandstorm approaching and then an escape in said sandstorm.
And at every single frame, I could understand everything that was going on. No shaky cam. No Zero Dark Thirty complete darkness bullshit. No matter how frenetic the attention becomse, you don’t miss any part of the action.
Then the acting. The elephant in the room is Bradley Cooper, who doesn’t seem to be able to stop proving how good and adaptable of an actor he is. This is Alan from the Hangover, Face from the A-Team, the go-getter from Limitless, playing a convincing portrait of a would-be patriot who you’re never sure if he says what he says because of his beliefs or because of PTSD. If he wins an Academy Award, it’ll be not for this role but for how talented and multifaceted of an actor he is -you know, what Di Caprio should have gotten years ago-.
And now, to what seems to have set everyone against everyone, for reasons that I can’t fathom… The combination of everything above with the script. There are mainly two sides who agree on one thing: this is a patriotic movie that re-enforces the idea of USA good, brown people bad. One thinks this is great, the other think it’s an outrage. To both these sides, I say:
Did you even watch the movie?
From the way these people are acting it seems like American Sniper is trying to hammer in that America fights for justice, that brown people are evil, that everything US soldiers do is justified, and that this is the only POV that gets expressed throughout the whole movie. I’m sorry, but, are you sure you didn’t watch Zero Dark Thirty again by accident? That’s the movie I’m describing right now.
Kyle expresses his belief that everything he doe, he does for his country and to protect his friends and family back home? Okay, that’s one POV. Then we have the wife who’d like him to just stop fighting and come home, the religious guy who doesn’t believe in what America is doing anymore, his own younger brother who to Kyle’s laudes and extreme pride answers with a Thousand Yards stare and a metaphorical middle finger.
Just because it’s the POV of the protagonist it doesn’t mean that it’s the only one, or that it’s superior. For one thing, Kyle may have survived his three trips to the middle-east, but one of his comrades in arms died in a hospital bed leaving behind his fiancee. He wasn’t the only one to die, and most of them had cheered before being deployed.
Second, you could make an argument that it’s shown as the superior POV if Kyle himself was shown as superior morally… But that doesn’t happen.
I’ve heard people say this is a pro-war movie. To those I say: I live in Italy. I’ve seen Fascist Cinematic Reels. I know pro-war propaganda. American Sniper is as far from pro-war as you can get without actually not talking about war.
A Pro-War movie makes war seem noble, the effort justified and the soldiers infallible protectors. It dehumanizes the enemy, making it seem like a boogie man, a monster. Something alien that should only be destroyed. It turns everything black and white. American Sniper is so many shades of grey that it puts E.L. James to shame -if her own writing didn’t already-.
First of all, we don’t see Chris Kyle as a noble hero who can do no wrong. He does many terrible things. In his first act as a sniper, he kills a child and his mother. During the course of the movie, he causes the death of yet another kid and his father with his actions. He turns onto a civilian who was offering him dinner out of his own pocket, after using his house as a bird’s nest, when he discovered he was hiding weapons for the enemy. In front of his family.
At home he’s distant from his wife and kids and his refusal to face that war is affecting him psychologically only causes them to suffer more. We’ve seen the guy almost hurt the family dog because he was playing with his children and that triggered his PTSD. We’re always left wondering if what he says is himself or something he built up to deal with the actions that he does not want to commit but does anyway, as evidenced in the second kid-sniping scene of the movie.
And finally never through the whole movie does he say that his actions are justified. When asked directly he says he will leave judgment of that to God. He does not say that god will forgive him: just that he will deal with it after his death. In the final part of the film we’re not shown any redemption. Only his try to leave war behind and focus on his life at home and his family before meeting a tragic end.
Second: we don’t see the enemy dehumanized. We see a lot of Kyle’s victims, be they direct or indirect, having families. They’re of all sexes and ages. And this effort to make the afghan people people is never more evident than in the figure of his parallel and nemesis: Mustafa.
Mustafa is an individual, not a cardboard villain. He is shown having a life, before and during the war. He’s not just a nameless mook with a penhance for headshots: he was an olympic gold medal winner, with a wife and a small child not much older than Kyle’s second. There’s never any effort to show him as evil, or a monster. Just as a sniper, as deadly if not more than Kyle, throughout most of the movie.
Clint Eastwood shows plenty of opinions about war during the movie, doesn’t sugarcoat any of the actions committed by its protagonist, and leaves the judgment to the viewer as only the best directors and storytellers do. But saying that this film was build up as war propaganda is a blatant lie born out of misinformation or bias, be it that you’re upholding American Sniper as the next true american movie or want to put it in the garbage pile. You can’t tell me that a movie where the main character decides to use the symbol of the freaking Punisher is trying to portray him as perfectly stable and heroic!
From the way both of these groups act it seems like for a movie to be against war it’d need to show people spitting on the coffins of veterans at their own funerals like in the 70s after Vietnam. To them, I ask: are you really sure that it’s American Sniper that wants to portray everything in black and white extremes?