I had a conversation with my father the other day about Clint Eastwood’s new film ‘American Sniper’ and the thing that seemed the most important to him was if being behind that rifle really screwed him up. You see, a few years ago my father sat down with a sniper who had served in Iraq and this man was very screwed up by having to kill people that he was not entirely convinced were the enemy. So, I think he was hoping that was the movie he was in for.
While that would certainly make a good story, that is not even close to ‘American Sniper’. As a matter of fact, this film is such an old school war movie in its execution that many liberals have decreed it as Eastwood’s Republican Propaganda Movie. Well, I won’t argue that the movies hero finds his acts of killing 160 people a justified act of defending his nation, but there are also moments in this movie where the horrors of decisions in war have never been more expertly crafted. A scene where Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) has to choose whether to shoot a child with an RPG is especially harrowing.
Yet, it is not my job to knock a movie for its characters beliefs. I may have thought that the Iraq War was unjustified and that most people who died in that conflict were a tragic consequence. I also might believe (because I personally knew some of them) that many soldiers are just cold blooded murderers who wanted a place to kill legally. I may feel this way personally, but it is not a filmmakers job to appease my personal reflections. Eastwood’s job here is to depict a man’s story in the best and most entertaining way possible for an audience. In that way, ‘American Sniper’ is a huge success.
Early on, the film has some of the same small issues that ‘Unbroken’ has. It chooses to flash back to the early years of its heroes life and gives simple slogans from family to explain their actions. Luckily, both of these films make up for this by giving us fully fleshed out characters to follow. Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle with such an immersive southern drawl and commanding physical presence that you could be forgiven for not knowing it was Cooper. This is a role that any other year would receive an Oscar nomination.
It doesn’t take long for Kyle to see a news report about the bombing of our embassy for him to join the Navy Seals. It is at this point that the movie gets really good. Everything about the movie flows perfectly and every sequence commands your attention. Some of these sequences are intense scenes of Kyle having to possibly kill women or children with bombs and others are great scenes between Kyle and his wife (played wonderfully by Sienna Miller). No matter where the film is at, domestic or war zone, it is utterly involving.
The core of the films story involves Kyle becoming a legend in Iraq and commanding his own small unit to try to get Zarqawi. This leads him to a show down with a sniper named Mustafa while a family helping the Americans is brutally murdered in the streets. This moment is the catalyst for a vendetta that will lead him back to Iraq again and again. Over the course of the years, he is extremely successful in his mission overseas, but nearly loses his family at home.
However, Kyle can’t stop himself from going back when he begins to lose good friends to the mission. This all leads to a miraculously staged showdown that is so much like an old western that it’s hard to believe it’s true. In the end though, the movie leaves the audience both satisfied and asking ourselves if the harm to his fellow soldiers was really worth the end result. There are not necessarily any answers, but the subtle questions speak loudly enough.
All in all, ‘American Sniper’ is a magnificent return to form for one of our best living directors. How fitting that one of the only living legends tells the story of another legend. This is a must see to any fan of war movies and the best movie made yet about the Iraq War.
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