REEL TO REAL – DOES AMERICAN SNIPER GLORIFY WAR OR CONDEMN IT?

american_sniper2

Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Written by Jason Hall. 
Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller.

So will the real American Sniper please stand up? The film, a biographical account of Navy SEALs sharpshooter Chris Kyle –  deadliest marksman in U.S. military history – has split US audiences down the middle. From liberals decrying it as jingoistic propaganda to conservatives hailing it as a tribute to a deserving war hero.

The fact that the film is currently breaking box office records in the US is indicative of its topical appeal amongst Americans. For non-Americans however, it does come across as a one-sided narrative on George W Bush’s war on terror. The terrorists are evil and the Americans are the good guys. But a justified perspective if seen through the eyes of our protagonist Kyle, who is motivated to sign up with the Navy SEALs to combat terrorism – to protect family, friends and country.

However, whenever Kyle is back home, he suffers from the symptoms of the clichéd PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) – the effects of fighting in brutal street warfare. This disconnects him from his family and he appears obsessed, even addicted to war and unable to adjust back to normal life.

Nothing remotely ground-breaking about all this (remember Deer Hunter?) and Kyle’s character is portrayed rather straightforwardly by Cooper. The fight scenes are epic in scope and Eastwood does not hold back on the gore to set the right tone.

There is a cognitive dissonance between the recognition of Kyle as a “legend” by his peers and Kyle’s own unease and guilt at ‘not doing enough’ which Eastwood plays up quite well. The manner in which Kyle dispatches the enemy with deadly efficiency is impressed on the viewer without fuss – matter of factly – a natural consequence of modern warfare.

Eastwood’s political stance is staunchly Republican and that message does peer over the parapet wall every now and then, even as enemy fire (the counterpoint of the cost of war) is sufficiently heavy to keep its head down. Ultimately, American Sniper is about the life of Chris Kyle in and out of war – do we really need to read more into it than that? And the ironic and tragic way this all ends leaves a bad enough taste in the mouth to simply leave it all behind.

In the cinemas now.

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