by Branden Wittchen
Somewhat appropriately, considering the reasons for the conflict, this is one of the dumbest movies about the Iraq War. American Sniper (directed by Clint Eastwood) is a movie that asks the audience to care more about the suffering of an American soldier that has to kill a child, than the death of that child. It is a movie that asks the audience not to care why the U.S. military is in Iraq or whether or not they should be. It is a movie that reduces the people of Iraq to two simplistic stereotypes “savage terrorists” and “victims”. It is a movie that asks the audience to evaluate its war heroes, not by the amount of lives they’ve saved but by the amount of lives they’ve taken. It is a movie that confuses the horrible acts that happened on the 11th of September 2001 with the war in Iraq. It is a movie so in love with its hero that it dare not show any sort of character flaws in him, thus creating a completely unbelievable character. It is a movie that completely misrepresents PTSD. It is a movie that asks the audience to cheer at the death of another man. It is also a love story to firearms that doesn’t even have the guts to deal with consequences borne from the “freedom to bear arms.” Worst of all, it is jingoistic pro-war propaganda. At times American Sniper resembles a non-satirical version of Team America. At other times it resembles the masturbatory fantasies of a violently aggressive 12 year old Call of Duty fan.
In American Sniper, Bradley Cooper plays a character somewhat based on Chris Kyle who is a (you guessed it) American sniper, who fought in Iraq. The real Chris Kyle rose to fame after writing an autobiography (with the help of Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice) about himself and his American record of 160 confirmed kills of, in his own words, “savages”. He also reached a certain level of infamy after telling some tall tales about murdering two men at a petrol station who attempted to car jack him in Texas, and about him and a buddy killing people they called bad guys in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He was even successfully sued for a defamatory story in which he claimed to have punched a Minnesota governor for saying something “un-American”.
There is no doubt that the real Chris Kyle deserves recognition for his service. He did, after all, survive three gunshot wounds, two helicopter crashes, six IED attacks, and numerous surgeries. However Clint Eastwood’s movie about Chris Kyle doesn’t mention any of this, perhaps in fear that it may take away from the indestructible action-hero representation of him. The movie also doesn’t deal with the circumstances of his death by firearm at a Texas gun range. Instead, the movie uses his death at the ending of the movie to manipulate the audience’s emotions and incite some patriotic flag waving. Sadly, I must admit the movie did succeed in its ending, as in the three-quarter full cinema in which I watched the movie, the entire audience left in respectful silence after the credits finished. However, the movie would have been much more interesting if it had dealt with the real Chris Kyle; a man who constantly boasted about his 160 confirmed kills (something about which the US Army does not officially or unofficially keep track, and is in fact something they shy away from reporting); a man who was a racist, who struggled with telling the truth, possibly as a result of PTSD; a man who was injured at war but kept going back; a man who was killed by something he loved so much – a firearm – by someone he was trying to help overcome PTSD. A movie that looked at the country and culture that created this type of person and actually analysed and reflected on who he really was would have been much more interesting. Instead we are given this false representation of him as a modest action hero who loves the US of A, in some attempt to create a patriotic feeling of adoration for this man.
In the opening scene of American Sniper we are shown Chris Kyle’s first two kills. A woman and a child who attempt to attack US soldiers with a grenade. He is later shown to be upset by the experience and, in a later scene in the movie, he is shown struggling with the fact that he may have to shoot another child who has picked up an RPG dropped by one of the many men that Kyle kills throughout the film. Kyle is staring down the scope of his rifle with the crosshairs aimed on the young child struggling to lift the heavy weapon. He begins to beg for the child not to pick it up as he knows he will then have to shoot and kill him. What I don’t understand is why can’t he shoot a warning shot near the child to scare him off instead of killing him? The worst part of these scenes however is that no importance is given to the life of the Iraqi children, the movie instead weighs on the emotional anguish that its hero has to suffer. Even worse, the movie seems to suggest that the women and children that are killed at the hands of Chris Kyle deserved it for serving terrorist regimes. I find this ridiculous as it is highly likely the women and children (and many of the men too) are forced or manipulated into such actions.
In what is meant to be the climax of the movie, Kyle faces off against an enemy sniper known as Mustafa, who serves as the arch enemy of our hero and the antagonist of the film. Mustafa is not given any dialogue throughout the entire movie, but is instead given the character traits of having dark skin, wearing black villainous-looking clothing, and often shown lurking amongst the shadows or spinning a bullet ominously. Not much story is given on Mustafa, except that he is an Olympic sniper using his talents to kill American soldiers. We are told just enough to know that he is the bad guy. During what is meant to be the scene stealing part of the movie, we are given a first person view of the bullet fired by Chris Kyle that kills Mustafa from a considerable distance. This scene was met with cheers, applause, and cries of “awesome” by the crowd with whom I watched this movie. I found this disgusting and highly insensitive, cheering at the death of another man in a story that is meant be based on real people, especially when, in an earlier scene it was suggested that Mustafa is a father. I also found this first-person-bullet scene oddly similar to something you would see in a Call of Duty videogame. This is particularly odd considering Eastwood is more likely to be heard – in his Dirty Harry voice – uttering something along the lines of “those damn kids and their video games”, than to be playing a first person shooter.
Defendants of the movie’s racism and Kyle’s racist use of the word “savages” have responded with questions such as “what would you call people that commit terrorist acts and torture children?” I ask these people to re-watch the movie, paying careful attention to the scene in a Hummer where one soldier is discussing an engagement ring he bought off an Iraqi civilian. In this scene, Bradley Cooper’s character refers to the person from whom the soldier bought the ring as a savage. When Chris Kyle speaks of savages, he is not specifically referring to terrorists but to all Iraqi people. Is the real Chris Kyle really someone that should be glorified? Is this fictionalised Chris Kyle someone who should be glorified?
American Sniper has been compared to The Hurt Locker but such comparisons are misguided. This isn’t half the movie that The Hurt Locker is. The few minutes in The Hurt Locker of William James (Jeremy Renner) struggling with life back on home soil holds more water than the entire second half of American Sniper, which is focused on Kyle’s “PTSD”, which is presented as nothing more than him feeling bad for not still being over there where he could be protecting his brothers by killing more “savages”.
The inclusion of this propaganda in the Academy Award Best Picture and Writing (Adapted Screenplay) nominees is an insult to the other movies that have been nominated. Yes, the movie is well acted, filmed, edited, written, and produced. However, it is one of the biggest budgeted propaganda films ever made – and Eastwood’s abilities to manipulate the audience’s emotions are unquestionable – but a movie shouldn’t be praised for its craft when its message is so horrible. There are some really good movies about the War in Iraq which ignore politics and focus on personal stories (The Hurt Locker and The Messenger being two of the best), but American Sniper is not one of them.