Monday, February 16, 2015

Film Review: American Sniper

As is usually the case, I don't get out to see many films in the theater and only end up seeing the ones that both my wife and I both have an overwhelming desire to see.  American Sniper was one such film.  Having read the biography about two years ago I was well familiar with the background and though some of the film was fictionalized to create a narrative that would provide an arc it was largely in line with the details from Chris Kyle's book.

The film itself was excellent with Bradley Cooper's portrayal of Chris Kyle being spot on.  From Kyle's Texas accent to his physical build, Cooper does a masterful job in imitating his real life model.   In story and direction there isn't much new.  We get Kyle's reasons for entering the SEALs, his time in BUDs, his meeting with Taya (his future wife), his deployments, his actions in Iraq as both a sniper and in more close quarter battles, the deaths of close friends, marital problems, etc.  All of it is well portrayed and Eastwood provides enough context to understand where Kyle comes from and why he views the world the way he does.  Yup, some of it may seem too simplistic for modern audiences but based on his own words, it rings true.

American Sniper is not a "great" film.  It doesn't belong up there with any pantheon of Buzzfeed lists of the best films of all time.  Its a very good film that is exceedingly enjoyable but it isn't Earthshattering in its delivery.  Unforgiven remains Eastwood's high-water mark and by a large margin and Mystic River is also better...

It may, however, be a more important film than any of these for what it brings out of its viewers.  Becoming one of the largest grossing "R" rated movies of all time and already the highest grossing "war" film of all time, American Sniper becomes a Rorschach test for any viewer.  Those on the left see it as gringoism at its worst, transforming the Iraqis into mere meat to be mown down by the hands of an avenging American.  Those on the right see it as an expression of American Patriotism and Texas individualism.  As always with these things, its neither.

As Eastwood has actually stated himself, its more of an anti-war film than either the Right or Left want to portray.  By the end of the film Kyle has been broken down both physically and mentally by the tasks required of him.  We've watched his friends die, his justified but difficult shooting of a boy and his mother, marital difficulties, absence from his children's life, the questioning of the war's purpose by his brother and others around him, watched him piss himself as he stands overwatch, and finally, his own destruction at the hands of someone he had hoped to help.  To view the aforementioned and find that the film is either a white-washing of the American effort there or a purely Patriotic retelling  of a Christian, Texas, good old boy is to ignore what one has just seen.

American Sniper is an honest retelling of an exceedingly brave and capable soldier who served his country to the limits of his existence.  It deserves to be told and seen and understood--properly.

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