American Sniper started out as just a movie, but it has become more than that. It has become a symbol, a meme, a viral storm. The story of Navy Seal CPO Chris Kyle, the most successful sniper in military history, is a lightning rod: how you respond to it is now a measure of your patriotism and your politics.
The Clint Eastwood directed epic tells the story of a redneck Texan, not making much of a living as a rodeo cowboy, who enlists in the Navy, survives the brutal training to become a Seal, and is deployed to Iraq as a sniper, providing support for the Marines by killing people who threaten their mission. He has a wife and kids at home, from whom he grows estranged through his 4 tours of duty in “the sandbox”.
Eventually, Kyle has had enough and leaves the service. Returning home, he is plagued by PTSD, but eventually gets help and recovers his happy home life. It doesn’t hurt that he wrote a best selling book and made millions, but the movie doesn’t mention that part.
The Iraq war was a ghastly mistake, the product of ignorance, incompetence and/or venality, a war based on a lie that cost 6000 American lives, 100,000 Iraqi lives and about a trillion dollars. This movie ignores all of that, focusing on the micro story, not the macro issues.
As a movie, it’s great. Eastwood is a marvelous director, keeping the movie taut, the action fast and the emotions high. Bradley Cooper is marvelous as Chris Kyle–he bulked up so much for the role he barely looks like the guy from Silver Linings Playbook. Sienna Miller plays his wife with sensitivity, the woman who stuck with her man through thick and thin, who supported him through firefights live via satellite phone and frantic, violent overreactions once he returned home.
Those who remember Mr. Eastwood’s speech to an empty chair will understand that he sees the world in pretty black and white terms–there are no moral ambiguities. CPO Kyle, too, has no issues. He likes what he does, he thinks the Iraqis are “savages”, he never questions authority. To some, that makes him a hero. To others, that is the mark of a psychopath. Maybe both are right, maybe neither, but nobody in this movie will raise that sort of question. Kyle continues to snipe until the day he can’t do it anymore, then feels huge guilt that he is letting his friends, his family and his country down. He honestly believes that he was in Iraq protecting his family, without ever questioning what we were doing there in the first place. His loyalties are to God, country and family, in that order, but maybe in some rare case family could outrank country.
American Sniper grossed more in its first weekend than any movie ever, although it only scored a 72 on the tomatometer. See it if you like good war movies. See it if you like good acting, or good action. See it if it will make you fell more American and patriotic, it’s very good at that. If you are looking for the definitive Iraq war movie, that explores all sides of the issues and seeks to find the overall truth, that movie hasn’t been made yet.