I went to see “American Sniper” the other day — not because I wanted to see American soldiers shooting people (and being shot at) in the Iraq portion of this country’s ongoing imperial war, but because I’m a sucker for good acting or acting reported to be good. And Bradley Cooper, who co-produced the movie, is excellent — totally different from other characters he’s played, and apparently as much as humanly possible like Chris Kyle, the real-life soldier on whose experiences the movie is based.
I also wanted to see “Sniper,” because it’s a cultural phenomenon — the only movie about the Iraq war that’s been a hit at the box office — a huge hit, apparently. Others I’ve seen, like “Stoploss” and “The Valley of Elah,” have been more nuanced and critical of the war, which partially explains the different response to “Sniper,” which can be viewed throughout in patriotic, hero-worshipping mode. This is apparently the — in my mind simplistic — mindset of “middle America” (or those just seeking shoot-em-up entertainment?), as well as that of Chris Kyle himself, who actually believed he was protecting his wife and kids by serving four tours in Iraq. When, in between his third and fourth tour, his wife points out to him that she and their two small children are here (as opposed to there), he gives his other reason: “serving his country.” We see Kyle as a young boy being taught by his father to be a “sheepdog” rather than a “sheep” or a “wolf” — in other words, to be of service, to protect others: what he thought he was doing in Iraq. He never questioned “the mission” as other soldiers did, one being — in the film — his younger brother (who apparently didn’t really have these thoughts) and another a guy in Kyle’s unit who was killed (in Kyle’s opinion) because he “let go” (questioned the mission).
In reality, the only people Kyle was serving — in addition to the war criminal elite who prosecuted this war for oil — were his buddies, whom he strove mightily to keep alive. Except for the final battle scene, in which he draws fire on himself and his unit in order to “get” an expert sniper on the other side. A side Kyle describes as “evil,” and which could easily be seen as fanatic in this film, rather than possessing nationalism and a self-defense instinct of their own.
I like to see more questioning — of our government’s motives and of what it means to be a good person and a man — in my films and their characters. And I think this film glorifies “righteous” violence and, perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent this country’s gun culture, and supports American foreign policy by not questioning it. On the other side, I like the portrait the film paints of a real-life man and his family and the personal struggles they went through. Despite his apparent imperviousness, Kyle never enjoyed the killing he did, and did suffer a degree of post traumatic stress disorder.
My final quibble with the film is the unreality of Kyle once taking a call from his wife while on patrol and another time calling her — on the military SAT phone — from an actual battle. This could hardly have been in line with standard military procedure.
Kyle was killed at home by a mentally unstable vet he was trying to help by teaching him to be a better marksman.