Review written by Andrés Rosende
American Sniper opens with a scene full of tension. A convoy of American soldiers walks through the desolate streets of an Iraqi town. Our hero, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), overlooks the scene from a nearby roof, rifle in hand. He sees a mother giving a grenade to her young son, who runs towards the convoy. Kyle has to make an impossible call: either he kills the kid or his fellow marines could die. Eastwood takes us to the edge of our seats. You can feel the audience holding its breath. At this moment, we flashback to Kyle’s childhood, youth, and the reasons he became a NAVY Seal and the most deadly sniper in American history.
Clint Eastwood is one of the last – maybe the last – classical directors in Hollywood. His pulse behind the camera is always firm. His talent with actors is also obvious and he has never shied away from controversial themes, sometimes even presenting ideas against his own beliefs as when addressing euthanasia in Million Dollar Baby. All of this is true about American Sniper. It’s good drama, with a strong, complex character. It delivers a great performance and addresses a delicate issue. I was excited through the whole film and there are some scenes that are masterfully done, including the fore-mentioned scene when Kyle is forced to kill a child and the final showdown in the middle of a sand storm.
Nonetheless, I can’t call American Sniper a great film and there is something about it that bugged me throughout. Eastwood decided not to make a political comment with this story, not acknowledging that that is impossible. Therefore, what happens is that everybody brings to the theater his or her own views of this issue and filters the movie through them. Is Chris Kyle a psychopathic murderer elevated to an American icon, or is he a true hero, a patriot who scarifies his life for his country?
By the end of the film, it’s clear that Eastwood’s main concern is to add to the myth and portrait of a sympathetic hero – damaged by war, perhaps, but an honorable man who, despite all he goes through, is also a great husband and father. In doing so, he gives us a simplistic, good versus evil, black and white view of a war that should never have happened. In point of fact, American Sniper makes some dangerous associations: Kyle decides to join the SEALS after seeing the Twin Towers go down; a few months later he is killing people (every male 16 to 65 he encounters) in a country that had nothing to do with those attacks in New York. All of them are refereed to in the film as “savages.”
The film’s lack of a clear ideology has motivated a lot of hatred and irrational comments on its Twitter feed, which could stand as a lesson to artists that they should be very careful when addressing complex issues in a simplistic way. “American sniper makes me wanna go shoot some fucking Arabs,” one Twitter user wrote. Another commented: “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are – vermin scum intent on destroying us.” And yet another: “Teared up at the end of American Sniper. Great fucking movie and now I really want to kill some fucking ragheads.”
Contrary to what what Kyle’s father tells him in the beginning of the film, we cannot divide people in this world into “sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.” Life is much more complicated than that. And the Clint Eastwood who directed Unforgiving and Letters from Iwo Jima knows it.
Andrés Rosende is an LA based writer and director. He holds an MFA in screenwriting and directing from Columbia University. His films have played at festivals around the globe including Cannes, Sitges, Cleveland and South by Southwest, winning more than 40 international awards.