Chris Kyle in real life wasn’t somebody I would want to hang out with. Chris Kyle in the movie tries to be, but he also fails. Bradley Cooper portrayed Kyle as all-American hero, worth of every admiration and respect. He followed orders, he came through, did what he had to do. When I consider what Eastwood did in his earlier films that’s not something new and different. Duties and obligations aren’t questioned in the soldier’s world, world so easy to judge from our comfortable position with snacks in one hand and drink in the other. Experience of war is complex and difficult for everybody involved. However, I can’t help but wonder would the Iraqi sniper in the same role and position be revered as legend or as a war criminal? Depending on your point of view, the experience of “American Sniper” varies. It could be great no-brainer war film or it could be propaganda in which Iraqi people are characterized as terrorists who don’t understand that US only tries to help them.
In this text I refuse to enter that discussion and I will try to look at “American Sniper” as stand-alone movie with all preferences and criticism considering politics, war mongering, racism, extremism and reasons of the Iraq conflict put aside on behalf of the movie as an art. Standalone work, if you want.
Eastwood always knew how to direct action scenes. He didn’t fail here either. All action scenes in Iraq are confident, tense and logical. Even Bradley Cooper (I’m not big fan of his) did great job as Chris Kyle, he really touched that sweet-spot where we could see that Kyle was determined to do the “right thing” for his country. When he was a kid his father said to him that if “somebody touches you, you push back and push back hard” and Kyle in the movie did just that. He pushed back. He didn’t think much about right and wrong. That was not his concern. His concern was that 9/11 is never repeated again and that his family in US is well and safe. He didn’t think pass that. Problem I have with this movie is too much focus on Bradley Cooper alone. All the other characters looked like they are drawn to the screen in 2D. They lacked depth and feeling, they failed to make Kyle into something more than a war veteran. Eastwood in one comment about this movie said that while he was growing up we had WW2, after that it was Korea followed with Vietnam, then Kuwait, Afghanistan and now we have Iraq. There’s always something. There was a scene in director’s cut of “Apocalypse Now” with the French in which one character said just that. There will always be something, machinery will never rest. I would add, there will always be people like Kyle too, not only in USA. When there is a war, there are always people who will run to the frontline, take the gun and shoot. They won’t question the authorities. Their logic is simple. They need us to fight. We are the defenders of the ________ way (fill with any nation, however you like) and that way is the best for everybody. You don’t get to choose. We will make the choice for you.
Chris Kyle was legend in the SEALS, but in the movie he was also godlike. He decides who lives and who dies; without “The Legend” even simplest of operations are too much to handle for every new jar-head in the unit. When he came home, he wasn’t godlike anymore. He lost that power and it’s easy to be addicted to the feeling. Nobody can grasp that except those which faced the Reaper and won. Or faced the war, nevertheless. There is no difference. Relationship between Kyle and his wife is painted on the canvas through Siena Miller and Bradley Cooper. Their chemistry works and if the director chose any other than glorifying path for Kyle we would probably get characters that are better carved up and explained to the viewer.
“American Sniper” would be solid movie if Clint haven’t made it. Unfortunate with Clint, solid isn’t good enough. “American Sniper” is overrated, but it works his way to the audience willing to believe what film tells them to believe. As I’ve written in the text about “Unbroken”: You don’t use pathos when you have these single biographic stories. If you’re filming it they are probably worth of the story/screenplay on which they’ve based to. Overusing pathos and glorifying the main character in most cases has the opposite effect on the film-quality. It’s your choice how you’ll see the “American Sniper.” You can see it as propaganda or as a solid war-movie. It’s not a masterpiece. It shouldn’t be nominated for “Oscar” in competition with “Nightcrawler” (same goes on Bradley compared to Jake) but this movie is an interesting attempt to justify what seems to be a pointless war. I used to Clint being more critical than he is here. This film, together with Hoover biopic, proves that political views can affect the quality of his work. Pity, “Gran Torino”, “Letters of Iwo-Jima” and “Flags of Our Fathers” proved that he can do it better, he can do differently.
Question from the beginning remains, if this movie was about Iraqi sniper, would it be glorified as a masterpiece or it would be considered as useless provocation. Reasoning is basically the same. Motives the same. Characters too, roles are turned. If “Sniper” from the title were to be any other than “American” I sincerely think that movie wouldn’t be as praised. When you look, for example, “Enemy at the gates”, there you can see characterization of both sides pulled to extremes. I missed that here. There is no characterization of Iraqi soldiers, they are “enemies” and US are “fighters”. For all the perks such characterization would make in dramatic sense, I think it would be worth it. Then again, I’m not sure what freedom Eastwood had with the source material. Pity, second biographical pic in this-year “Oscar frenzy” which is underachievement.
It’s a pity, all things considered. Really good parts of the movie are when he comes back home and tries to adapt to civil life. However, that was done considerably better in “Hurt Locker” and considering ideological plot even “Zero Dark Thirty” was better movie. The best of all screenings of Iraq conflict is “Generation Kill” by far. “American Sniper” doesn’t come close to the depth of any of these titles. That is his biggest failure and something that Clint wasn’t expected to do. When I look his career in retrospective than this will be just a mention at the end. He, and this subject, deserved better and more critical approach.