Despite Clint Eastwood’s best efforts, American Sniper has inevitability descended into political controversy. If you bother to read up on this for even five minutes, which is all I could handle before getting annoyed, you will soon discover that most of the debate is heated, confusing and confused.
American Sniper refuses to comment directly on the nature of U.S. involvement in Iraq. We see footage of the Twin-Towers being attacked, there is a time-lapse, and we’re soon off to Iraq. The ambiguity is there for the audience to fill in: conspiracy or otherwise. There is absolutely no reference to high politics, yet due to the subject nature it’s an easy target for those who love the sound of their own voice.
Similarly, I don’t fully understand where the anti-Islamic violence stemmed from in the aftermath of the film opening in America. I can only assume it was from those lovely people who believe ‘all Muslims are terrorists.’ American Sniper is, surprise, surprise, a war film; and people do bad shit in war. The most graphic scene involves violence between the Iraqi people: which yes, is unpleasant; but I was more disturbed when watching the roulette scenes in The Deer Hunter. I honestly cannot see where this inspiration, of anti-Islamic fervour, sprang up from.
The main critique on this basis is that the Iraqi people are portrayed in a pretty one-dimensional way, which is justified; but there is nothing in this film to inspire hatred. It will have been used as an excuse by those already harbouring such emotions: by those who are incapable of seeing a different side to an argument even when it’s frolicking around in front of them wearing seductive underwear, standing beneath an enormous, flashing neon sign, saying ‘I am the other side of the argument.’
The final talking point revolves around whether Chris Kyle has been depicted as a hero. Certainly he was far less amiable than the character portrayed by Bradley Cooper, and in his book stated, “Everyone I shot was evil… They all deserved to die.” The problem facing Clint Eastwood making the film then was, do I show him as the man he truly was, or do I alter the character and make him more conscientious: i.e. do I make him more audience friendly?
It is therefore of little surprise that Bradley Cooper plays a toned down version of Kyle; the performance is much more understated than I was expecting, and better because of it. He portrays Kyle as someone who played a role in a war, and the effects it had, as it bled into his family life. At times it is unsettling when we see Kyle unable to grasp the thinking behind counter arguments: such as when his wife claims that he is not protecting his family.
The only time I felt Kyle was being made to appear as a hero was in the eyes of other soldiers, which is hardly surprising. Otherwise, he was a man doing his duty according to his own beliefs. Call me radical, but I can decide for myself whether I share these views. And maybe that’s why I didn’t see the film as hero-worship, because the motives were too straightforward, and I am not one for blind patriotism, regardless of the circumstances. The man I saw was someone who did their duty: but in my estimation that does not make him a hero.
The real question is, once all the background noise has been drowned out, is American Sniper a good film?
The simple answer is yes. But arguably, it set its sights on too narrow a target to ever be considered a great film, and it will never be up there with the classic, war films. Some of the themes are left unexplored and controversies shied away from; and though the acting should be applauded, the characters are still lacking an extra layer.
Perhaps if Clint Eastwood had taken more risks it would have been better. Sometimes it’s ok when film makers opt away from tackling, difficult concepts, in order to concentrate fully on the story and the characters; but in this instance I think it takes the edge away. It is almost impossible to shy away from the controversial elements surrounding the film, so then why not embrace them? Though many would have found it distasteful, maybe Chris Kyle should have been depicted as the remorseless man he was. It would have made for difficult viewing: but ultimately, it might have delivered a more powerful film, with the kind of clear, anti-war sentiment Eastwood was aiming for.
Overall then, I enjoyed American Sniper. It is a well acted and well directed film; but oddly, considering the controversy it’s faced, in the end it was a bit too safe.