American Sniper

The focus of “American Sniper” is on Texan, Chris Kyle, who decided to join the U.S. Navy SEALs after seeing the televised 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies. Kyle is often credited as the most lethal U.S. marksman of all time, with over 150 confirmed kills. He deployed to Iraq right after the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2012, Kyle published American Sniper, an autobiography and retelling of his experiences as the “Legend.” “American Sniper,” the 2014 film, is an adaptation of the autobiography. Living in 2015, we forget the anger, confusion, and despair the world felt toward the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts. The best approach to watching American Sniper is to retrospectively look at the lessons learned from the longest conflict in American history and its impact on society.

“American Sniper” is not the film many might expect. Bradley Cooper does not portray the legend that is Chris Kyle as anything other than genuine and amiable, and his performance is largely why Chris Kyle is remembered so well. (Cooper may have done a convincing enough job that newly-elected Texas Governor Greg Abbott even declared Feb. 2 as “Chris Kyle Day.”) While lauded as one of the top films of 2014 by many film critics, others had issues with the topic matters that inherently come with an American depiction of our own military involvement in another country. Despite Cooper’s favorable portrayal of Chris Kyle, “American Sniper” poorly depicts the moral complexities of the battlefield, most notably the humanity of war and its aftermath. These shades of gray were excluded from the final black and white product so much so that the film suffers when placed in the context of history.

The aftermath of the Iraq War is ever-present in “American Sniper,” even if the validity of such aftermath may be up for debate. Many soldiers die and the injuries to a select few are presented throughout the movie. The film also focuses on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),  a very real problem affecting virtually all of our veterans after experiencing the brutalities of the war in Iraq. As anyone could expect, it would be hard, if not impossible, to adjust from being under the constant threat of death to going on with civilian life. However, the film equates the solution to Kyle’s and many others’ PTSD to simply visiting the local shooting range to soothe the horrors of performing and/or witnessing acts of war. PTSD is a complex condition that many never recover from, and “American Sniper” does not accurately depict how the majority of veterans deal with post-combat life.

As a tool for justification of war, American Sniper is untactful and offensive. It is not a logical argument for military might (in fact, it shows the humanity and error of the machine that is the American military). The fact that Chris Kyle was the deadliest sniper in American history is not the best message for pacifism. This, coupled with the utter evil he faces in the movie practically forces the viewer to like him. Dramatically and as an artistic endeavor only, this “Good v. Evil” approach may work.

But the incessant killings of exclusive villains leave a bitter aftertaste, as these were real people. Hollywood justifies Kyle’s killings by dehumanizing the entire Iraqi people (commonly referring to them as “savages” who need to be civilized). There is not one “savage” throughout the movie that Kyle kills that could be deemed to be an actual person, when in reality the men and women he killed had families, morals, beliefs, and hopes much like Kyle himself. While the film portrays many realities of war, such as young men losing half of their bodies due to artillery, children being murdered or tasked to murder, or ransoms being collected for the killing of enemies, it depicts them as virtually one sided. The mistreatment of civilians, the bombing of innocent people, the torture of military prisoners – these are all things that occurred in the Iraq War that were not covered, mentioned, or implied in the movie. It is unacceptable in modern America that we can allow an entire people to be generalized as evil. It’s time to reevaluate how we portray and view Muslims (and all cultures, races, and ethnicities) in media and everyday life.

The ending to American Sniper was one of the most divisive endings to any movie I have seen. On one hand, the sheer overload of patriotism and American flags coupled with the strong performance by Cooper made me actually like Chris Kyle. On the other hand, I realized that most of the stories depicted may be false because “American Sniper” is just a movie. The appeals to emotion piled on at the end, creating an awkward moment where if one disagrees with Kyle’s near-savior persona, he will be most decidedly the odd one out. The theater was silent after the dedication to his service ended and the credits rolled.

Most pre-existing opinions will be nearly identical after viewing “American Sniper.” Bradley Cooper does a tactful job portraying Kyle in a good light, and Sienna Miller accurately depicts the frustration of being a military wife. Not all is wrong with the message of family and companionship being needed. However, if one paints the violence and killings against the backdrop of the actual Iraqi wars, most viewers justifiably might have a problem.

Overall, it is a must-see.