American Sniper: Eastwood’s Movie–Pro-War, Anti-War

american_sniper_4_cooperClint Eastwood’s second film this year, “American Sniper,” a chronicle of the Navy SEAl Chris Kyle, is not a great film, but it’s a very good one.



american_sniper_7_cooperAfter his disappointing foray into the musical genre, “The Jersey Boys,” released earlier this year, for which he showed no interest or affinity, Eastwood has made a tautly directed that deals with a perennial issue in his entire work: the role of violence and its impact on personality.

Over the years, Eastwood has made war films, which usually center on a platoon or a group, but he has not made a combat film about a solitary hero.   On the surface, “American Sniper” comes across as a biopic of Chris Kyle, an American original, a sharpshooter extraordinaire.  But the films does not really conform to the conventions of the biopic genre, despite a lengthy flashback in the first part of the film to Kyle’s childhood, and despite an effort to chronicle both his fighting and domestic life as a husband and father.

It is to Eastwood’s credit that he doesn’t use the prevalent mode of psychological realism.  Nor does he try to explain his conduct or to pretend that he understands him.  Indeed, viewers accustomed to mainstream cinema may complain that even at the end of the story Kyle is an enigma.  And he is.

american_sniper_6_cooperKyle claims that he is going 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.

Meanwhile, Kyle is also facing a different kind of battle on the home front: striving to be a good husband and father from halfway around the world.

Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, personifying the spirit of the SEAL creed to “leave no one behind.”  But upon returning to his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), and kids, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.

A fascinating genre-bending film, “American Sniper” is both a war movie and anti-war movie. Set during the Iraq War, it’s  as much a combat film as a contemporary Western, centering on the inner psyche (and demons) of a single man who, again, can be perceived as both a hero and anti-hero.

american_sniper_5_cooperBarely recongnizable, Bradley Cooper, sporting a heavier frame (he gained weight for his part) and even heavier Texas accent, gives a commendable performance, clean of any mannerisms, as Kyle, the most accomplished sniper in U.S. military history, with over 160 recorded kills through four tours of duty in Iraq.

american_sniper_2_cooperThough Kyle is an avid supporter of the Iraq war, which may explain his return to duty, the movie avoids any overt politicizing and explicit messages.

The film is both a tribute of a warrior’s extraordinary skills in serving his country’s political goals and a contemplative lament over his alienation and misery caused by an fulfilling personal and family lives.

It’s hard to think of an Eastwood film which is so thoroughly defined by moral ambiguity and thematic ambivalence, an open text that allows–and even encourages–multiple and diverse readings by the spectators, depending on their subjective value system.

The screenplay by Jason Hall was penned in collaboration with Kyle, who co-authored a bestselling book about his various exploits, adventures, and risks–all taken for the sacred ideological mission os serving and protecting his country.

Irony or hand of fate: As is well known, Kyle was shot to death at a Texas gun range in 2013 by one of his own breed,  a Marine veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, who is now awaiting trial.

End Note:

If Eastwood, who has been nominated for four Oscars, winning two (for Unforgiven in 1992 and for Million Dollar Baby in 2004), is again nominated, he will becomes the oldest Oscar nominee in the Director Branch.