When your icon of the enemy is complete
you will be able to kill without guilt,
slaughter without shame.
The thing you destroy will have become
merely an enemy of God, an impediment
to the sacred dialectic of history.
– “How to Create an Enemy” by Sam Keen
Collectively, we have been inundated with cultural offerings about the Iraq War; movies, music, protests, 24-hour news coverage, water cooler and dinner table discussions. We saw the reality of the Afghan war in “Restrepo.” After that documentary, any dramatization of the Iraq War narrative rings hollower than it should. But director Clint Eastwood doesn’t do himself any favors here by pulling a variation of his empty chair routine. This time, he rails against the foreign enemies of America instead of his perceived domestic ones. There are no neutrals in the world of “American Sniper.” Only a stark good vs. bad mentality that muddles the moments of nuance that should have driven the story. This is a story about a man struggling to become whole again, but you have to dig deep and stretch the script to get to that theme. That’s a shame, because this is an enjoyable movie to watch, even if it left the potential for a real and powerful conversation on the cutting room floor. (Review continues below synopsis.)
From director Clint Eastwood comes “American Sniper,” starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. But there was much more to this true American hero than his skill with a rifle. U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname “Legend.” However, his reputation is also growing behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, becoming emblematic of the SEAL creed to “leave no man behind.” But upon returning home, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind. (Synopsis by Warner Bros.)
There are an estimated 33.4 million Iraqis living across a variety of socio-economic and cultural lines. “American Sniper” would like you to believe that every single one of them exists solely to try to kill Americans. A single family is shown “helping” the Americans–but only to drive home the plot point that they will be brutally killed by the enemy. It’s the kind of hacky trope that you might expect in an “Expendables” movie. Here, it is neither realistic, believable, or more importantly, necessary. This oversimplification of the Iraqi culture reduces a complex situation into a single point of conflict. It is a cheap ploy in a movie that attempts to address the complicated issue of returning from military service.
The issue of post-traumatic stress syndrome is barely covered in the film. It is presented as an exclamation point on a sniper-vs-sniper action film more reminiscent of the WWII-set “Enemy at the Gates.” Chris Kyle’s tragic death is handled almost as an afterthought to the film’s action sequences, as if Eastwood and the writers didn’t know how to translate the complexity of PTSD to the screen in a coherent fashion, and opted for the easier path of a simplified action film. That choice, along with the black-and-white character structure (Iraqi = BAD, American = GOOD), causes the brief moments regarding the topic of PTSD to come across as jarring. Cooper does his best to navigate these moments, but no amount of acting can make up for the sudden introduction of a script element which has barely been set up. One of the few moments that works comes when Cooper is told to stay on a roof because the ground troops feel safer with him up there. It doesn’t matter whether they are or they aren’t–they simply believe the mythos. So much of “American Sniper” is based around its own mythos that it forgets the facts about Chris Kyle are more interesting than the dramatic embellishments.
Overall this comes off as a film that doesn’t have a voice. Is it a dramatization of Chris Kyle’s life and service? Is it a meditation on being a soldier? Is it simply an action flick that flails in its attempts to make a point? There is a lot of emotional patriotism thrown around to distract from the broad, one-dimensional characterizations of groups of people and characters. Eastwood shows Kyle signing up for the Navy after seeing the Twin Towers fall on television–though according to Kyle’s own autobiography, he actually joined in 1999 after injuring himself as a rodeo rider. But does playing hard and loose with the facts matter?
Shortly after 9/11 the country was gripped with justifiable patriotism, bordering on reverence. Across all social and political viewpoints, we rallied behind our national identity. Everyone wanted to support the troops. Some did so literally by sending care packages or volunteering with veterans. But there was (and is) a subset of people who felt that supporting the troops was as easy as putting a magnet on the back of their car and then talking loudly about how strongly they were supporting the troops. Never mind that they hadn’t actually done anything! The message sent was they didn’t even support the troops enough to put a permanent sticker on their car. As long as they could claim their patriotism with minimal effort, they were emboldened to broadcast the strength of their convictions. And quickly vilify anyone who said otherwise.
“American Sniper” caters to that subset of people, doing an excellent job of being emotional about war without ever having to get its hands dirty with the reality of war. Chris Kyle died because of our inadequate ability to forecast the mental and emotional strain on our soldiers returning from the war zone. He died while trying to close that gap himself in his own way, both for his own mental health and for his fellow soldiers. That is the story that should have been this film. We don’t need to see an overly-long dramatized sniper showdown that never happened. We don’t need to return to the war zone on each of his four tours. We’ve seen what soldiers have been through first hand thanks to the work of journalists like Sebastian Junger, films like “The Hurt Locker,” and the realities of our returning family and friends. Eastwood took the easy way out by making “American Sniper” a war movie. He could have delved deep into the reasons that Chris Kyle’s life ended the way it did. But the sad truth is no one would have gone to see that movie. Maybe Eastwood knew that most of us will only ever put that magnet on the back of our car.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: See it. It may not be the film that needed to be made, but it is still a good war movie. One hopes that something in this version honors Kyle’s life and brings comfort to his family.
THREE STARS out of four.
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references.
Runtime: 2 hours and 14 minutes
Phil Dirt says
Well, now we know this writer’s own view of the war, patriotism, and the average American citizen. I’d like to thank him for interjecting a few comments about the movie along with all of the “What he should have done was” comments.
Doe anyone know where can we go for a review of the actual movie?
The Money Tree says
Saw this movie last night – not even sure the reviewer did or they’d have known the movie was specific to Falujah which we all remember was evacuated by civilians and filled w terrorist rats. It was the most dangerous place to be for our troops – for this review to suggest Iraqis were turned into cardboard villains is just about the dumbest thing I’ve heard this weekend. An honest accurate review would be the first half hour seemed a bit slow but Eastwood did a fantastic job of showing us the horror of that place, in that time w/out preaching an anti-war message – apparently this reviewer is incapable of doing that same thing. A movie well worth seeing.
Iraq and that goat herder Saddam deserved everything they got after they attacked us on 9-11. We should have nuked the bastards.
Never forget that.
Well, you definitely got your facts mixed up. Neither Iraq or Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the 911 attacks. You have serious misconceptions of reality…….
This is the facts, I hope its enlightening….http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saddam_Hussein_and_al-Qaeda_link_allegations
Wikipedia…. gimme a break.
God almighty himself the father of Jesus Christ our savior told George W Bush the best President ever that Saddam needed to be taken out no matter what the cost in American lives.
So go wiki up your ass douche nozzel.
Oh, you didn’t like that one. Try this one : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/02/cheney-there-was-never-an_n_210145.html
I can do this all day long….
Here is another one : http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/06/01/cheney.speech/
All day long baby : http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/sep/12/september11.usa2
Now once you’ve read the truth, please come to terms with it and accept it. GWB was not the greatest and our country would have been better off without him or his father. That’s the bottom line because the SOULCRUSHER says so……
Sword of Light says
Somebody needs to work on their sarcasm detector – its broken.
And another : http://www.leadingtowar.com/claims_facts_iraqnotinvolved.php
One man's opinion says
I think SoulCrusher has too much time on his hands. Maybe he should get a girlfriend, boyfriend, dog, or maybe a job. He definitely has too much time on his hands.
The Money Tree says
Sadly, the issue goes beyond just excess time. He has anger issues and clearly needs therapy. He seems to need and want to make everything personal. Might be one of those ticking time bombs.
Wow, there is nothing personal MONEY TREE about putting the truth into someone’s life who doesn’t have a clue……
One man's opinion says
I really kind of feel sorry for SoulCrusher in a way. He apparently wasn’t savvy enough to be in the weed business and got caught. Now he feels the need to convince “himself” that he is a smart guy at the risk of sounding like a pompous jerk to the rest of us. I still feel he has too much time on his hands.
Was never in the weed business in 2009. I grew pot for my own use……..Feel sorry for yourself because you have no clue what your talking about.
I really kind of feel sorry for Marc Eaton. He is the nut farmer that used to complain relentlessly about people not using their real name on the Dagger, yet now he feels the need to still troll the Dagger under anonymous monikers. Marc, you know my name, you know my address. If you got a problem, c’mon over and I’ll fix it for you, anytime. Friend…….
One man's opinion says
SoulCrusher you are rapidly decreasing your credibility by your posts. The police do not routinely initiate an investigation without receiving prior information. You somehow brought attention to your endeavors. Say it aint so….but your arrogance probably pissed someone off and they plugged you in. You want to represent yourself as an intelligent person please try to keep it real dude.
Don’t know where your last comment came from, but either accept the invitation or walk on home, boy……
Phil Dirt says
Folks, be nice to SoulCrusher. Remember what the doctors told us about keeping him calm and pretending that he makes sense when he goes on his rants.
Good grief, the dirt man wants to get in on this. Hey Phil, the only doctor that has ever even remotely suggested what your implying was that half wit Stallings at your county’s Gulag. You know the same one that says everyone is bipolar yet as soon as they see a real doctor all his conclusions are dismissed as utter nonsense. Marc got on here, attacking me with his jibberish and you guys expect me not to respond? Its just not gonna happen.
Don’t like the truth then don’t read it…….
would you please look up the usage of your and you’re…
r u serious? says
Glorification of paid assassins in the name of defending nation from terrorist enemies not in America. Live by the sword and die by the same. Sad time we live in!!
… and die by the same… hah, better than your way- by the bravely typed keyboard of ridicule, the bumper sticker and the double mocha latte…
One man's opinion says
SoulCrusher sorry but I have to ask. Are you related to Michael Moore?
The film director or the Medal of Honor recipient?
One man's opinion says
Definitely not the CMH guy.
I enjoyed the movie. I thought it ran a little long but the same can be said of most movies today, as well as this review. This movie was based on Kyle’s book. It portrays him as he saw himself. It portrays him with a nod of respect to his wife and family. A “let’s bash the military for not taking care of our vets” movie or a “let’s bash the Bush administration for a faulty war policy” movie would not have been true to the book and would have been a grave disservice to his family. I can’t imagine having to do what Kyle did but I sure am glad we have guys who can. I liked seeing events from his perspective. There are plenty of war movies out there that play to politics. I’m glad they kept it out of this one. Ironically, the Motion Picture Academy thought Eastwood did a fairly good job. The movie is up for several Oscars. Perhaps this publication should use a reviewer a little more familiar with what constitutes a good film!
Agreed, I watched it a week or so ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is a sad shame that this soldier’s life ended the way it did…..
I don’t often feel compelled to post comments, but I am wondering if the reviewer actually watched the movie? It’s easy to sit at home in our armchairs and quarterback our military, but we have to remember that these people step up to protect us. You write that the movie was over-simplified? Actually, it did it’s job and left the viewers with conflicting emotions. Yes. It is difficult to see the death toll, especially the horrid death of the young boy whose family helped the US, but it unfortunately, evil does exist in our world. I wonder how far the reviewer would go to protect his family? You may think that Chris Kyle was “black and white,” but what you neglect to mention is that he was a human being. He did the job the job the military asked him to do, always with the threat of our government’s so-called justice (the threat of being tried, found guilty, and thrown into prison for doing what they were asked — there are several sitting in prison now for doing just that — all in the name of “political correctness.”) Chris Kyle was a true patriot. He stood up and served instead of hiding behind blogs and empty reviews. He did that so the reviewer could sit behind his desk and express his opinion. We may not agree with war — God only knows I pray there will be peace — but I would be over-simplifying it if I thought it would ever happen. This is not a perfect world. There are people out there whose mindset we will never understand, no matter how much we try. I, for one, do not want to sit back and watch while terror explodes around the world and moves toward us. Clint Eastwood did an amazing job in the short 2 1/4 hours he had to show the emotion, and yes, the mindset a soldier and his family must live with everyday. Thank the heavens there are people like him who are willing to do the job.
By the way, if the reviewer had actually watched the movie carefully, he may have noticed that Chris Kyle joined the Navy Seals when our embassy was hit, not when the twin towers fell. He was between deployments when that happened, and that was depicted in the movie.
I am so tired of the armchair bashing and very happy the movie was nominated for best picture by the people who give themselves awards. I doubt they’ll allow it to win, however.
Thank you for reading.
Space suit says
The man may have been a true hero, american bad azz but he also evidently lied about what someone said at a bar then lied about punching them.
So much that a 1.8million dollar lawsuit awarded to the defendant.
Phil Dirt says
That was Jesse “The Moron” Ventura, a former wrestler, former governor, and present-day conspiracy nut and all-around ass who sued Kyle’s estate in an attempt to bankrupt his widow. I think Ventura got hit in the nuts a few too many times in the wrestling ring and is now struggling to find his manhood wherever he can.
Space suit says
I don’t care about the people. Means nothing to me who they are/their beliefs.
Someone lied, a lawsuit presented and it was proven they lied/defense awarded.
Big John says
Hope to see the movie within the week. Just wondering, how many commenting served in Iraq/Afghanistan
makes no difference just wondering.
Maybe what the world needs right now is a compassionate look into the dynamic and complicated lives of the Iraqi people and their diverse individual hopes, dreams and plight. But honestly, Mr. Elloff, the movie is called “American Sniper.” What did you expect?
Normally, I’m not the movie theater type. I wait a year to buy the DVD for half the price of a movie ticket. The theater experience just isn’t my thing. This movie, however, I feel compelled to support by buying my tickets for the theater because of reviews like this and some of the other Hollywood turds speaking against it.
No one ever erected a statue of a critic. –who said that?
Based on his scathing review, I found it funny at the end that he gave it 3 out of 4 stars. (I saw it and thought it was terrific).
Mark Elloff says
Why 3 out of 4 stars? A thought experiment: replace Chris Kyle in American Sniper with a generic, fictitious soldier. This fictitious character is still the best sniper in the world and a decorated American soldier. Does the premise of the movie change?
Other than cutting out the last 15 minutes or so when Chris starts working with other veterans and is tragically killed, not really. What really made Chris unique and elevates him above all his accomplishments as a soldier was his decision to help other veterans. What would have elevated this film from very good to great would have been more emphasis on that Chris Kyle. The one who pushed aside his own personal demons to help others.
I stated a few times in the review that this was a good (or enjoyable) movie. It is entertaining for the most part. But it treated an individual as unique as Chris Kyle in a generic sense. That is unfortunate as the better story (the great film) is the one that balances his accomplishments as a soldier with his struggles returning home and his continuing self-sacrifice to help other soldiers.
Two and a half of those stars are for Eastwood making an entertaining war film. Half a star for picking an interesting subject (Chris) and attempting to highlight his life. Eastwood lost a star for the jingoistic rhetoric (unnecessary) and for glossing over the issues of soldiers PTSD and adjustments when returning home.
As is the premise of the review, this film should make us all pause and consider taking action to help soldiers returning home (see links in review).
Cliff Bugle says
While I don’t agree on several points in your argument, such as when you claim the character of Chris Kyle is oversimplified, I can certainly appreciate your main claim. And you make it well.
This being said, I feel that the biggest problem inherent within much of the film’s criticism, both legitimate and illegitimate, is that there is an admitted preference for what the film “should” have been – as if to suggest that those people feel justified in condemning the movie for what it isn’t as opposed to what it actually is. I warn that this is a trap. It’s one that’s all too easy to fall into, but it’s a trap nonetheless.
Any dissatisfaction with the inaccuracies between Kyle’s real-life story and the one shown on screen, for instance, would be more properly directed at the traditions that most Hollywood directors exercise when adapting fact into fiction. Audiences turn facts recounted in the news into narratives on a daily basis because that process is how most people are able to make sense of current events. The process by which a story like Kyle’s – or of any other real-life figure – gets turned into a movie is not all that different. And that is exactly how such movies have worked since the medium’s inception. Pick a random biopic, dig deep into the available facts of that film’s subject, and you’re bound to come across any number of incongruities, more than some of which are perhaps significant enough to change your entire opinion or understanding about that person. And yet, wouldn’t you agree that there are more than just a couple terrific biopics? And oh, that’s if we even agreed that “American Sniper” is a biopic.
I think we would agree that the film is actually less of a biopic than it is an elaborate use of Clint Eastwood’s artistic license – for better or worse. He took Chris Kyle’s story and created his own by cherry-picking certain facts and messages. If we agree on this as well, then certainly you must also agree that Chris Kyle the character is not meant to represent with true accuracy Chris Kyle the man. And so, the film, centered around this character and his own figurative perspective, is allowed to take certain liberties and echo the voice of the director.
Now, this is where your criticisms about the film’s major failings come into play, and are well-justified. Being that Eastwood has taken the liberty of making Chris Kyle’s story his own, he likewise takes responsibility for what he does with it. Surely we’re on the same page there. However, now we’re in the gray area of subjective interpretation. I don’t think audiences should feel any automatic obligation to consider a movie set within the context of the Iraq War a commentary of the war itself. It very well may be, but surely you wouldn’t begrudge people interpreting the film as having a much more finite and narrow focus, i.e. that of the character of Chris Kyle and his experiences. And if someone’s interpretation is that the focus is that narrow, then he or she is going to interpret an overall message or theme that’s possibly very different from your own. This is where I believe you and the people who vehemently disagree with you about the film are butting heads.
You and many others see Eastwood making one major mistake after another regarding big issues that aren’t properly explored by using the vessel that is the character of Chris Kyle, and others see a character drama that is concerned with merely one man, whose real-life story is purposefully re-written in order to reflect and relate to (that is, on the most basic levels) the experiences of all Americans. That you consider the film to be good despite the criticisms you mentioned leaves me to believe that a part of you appreciates it in this second way. And because of that, I would simply ask that you consider the possibility that this is in fact the intended interpretation.