As stereotypical american war movies go, American Sniper seems to fit the bill. It has a patriotic, protective, andall round nice guy Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) as its lead who signs up to protect his country and put his extraordinary marksmanship to use. It even has plenty of patriotic bravado, in a toe curling moment for fans of The Newsroom, Kyle actually calls the USA the best country in the world, we have the “bad guys” ( who, here, are “savages”, “terrorists” and “out to kill our guys”) and the camaraderie now synonymous with post-Private Ryan war dramas. In short, it checks all the boxes to be a terribly cliched, and almost unbearable American War Film.
Yet, despite the presence of all these cliches, Clint Eastwood’s drama has a lot more under the surface than it has been formerly criticised for.
‘Kyle’s patriotism and desire to protect his country and brothers may grate against the more liberal viewer but what pulls the story back is how heavily the cost of war weighs his soul.” From our Original Cinema Review.
Many have argued that simply telling the story from the US point of view is biased and unrepresentative of the full story and, although truthful to a degree (we rarely see Iraqis as anything other than the simplistic portrayal of barbaric savages), it is a clever directorial decision.
At times it may feel like you’re watching a friend playing Call of Duty in which an endless stream of incompetent and faceless ‘bad guys’ are gunned down by invincible and heroic ‘good guys’ but once you look past that, the drama becomes an extraordinarily rewarding delve into the effects war has on people.
We see Kyle repeatedly reliving the horrors of war even when not experiencing them – a drill sounds like machine gun fire, an overtaking van becomes an enemy and a shouting child becomes someone to save. Cooper’s portrayal of a man who is experiencing the personal struggle of this destructive power of war is a career best and Sienna Miller’s sensitive and emotional rendering of his wife, struggling to piece her husband together after each tour abroad, is excellent support considering her lack of screen time. Cooper’s performances has always annoyed me, his habit of over exaggerating and being “kooky” is thankfully absent here though. He’s no longer the grinning buffoon from the Hangover films or from American Hustle, he simply inhabits the Navy Seal and perfectly captures so much in a moment; one which sticks out is him becoming increasingly frustrated as his newborn daughter cries behind a window at the hospital. It’s both terrifying and terrific to watch.
Ultimately the criticism over balance is a fair one but I suspect it was Eastwood’s decision to portray the film from a one sided perspective because that is the way most people in the west see the conflict. We hear the tales of horror from the front lines, of casualties on the news and propaganda to support this war on terror. Perhaps you could read the film as a veiled criticism of US rightwing media which regularly distorts the truth and convinces men like kyle that they are defending their countries by fighting a misguided war.
The inference is that without doubt Kyle is a good man who chose to fight for the right reasons but in the wrong war.
A more subtle and thought provoking drama than it first seems, American Sniper more than deserved its place among this year’s OSCAR nominees.
American Sniper is available to download on May 18th and is released on LTD Edition DVD and Blu-Ray on June 1st. Image Rights; Warner Bros UK.