Movie review: American Sniper

Jan 30, 2015 by

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I’ve now watched two lousy Academy Award-nominated films in a row. But American Sniper is infinitely worse than Foxcatcher. Foxcatcher at least has its heart in the right place. It is trying in its flawed way to make the world a better place. American Sniper, on the other hand, can only make the world a worse place.


Bradley Cooper plays sniper Chris Kyle in American Sniper.

Indeed, watching it was utterly soul-draining and the biggest sacrifice of my life as a film critic. Not even my very low expectations could do justice to this travesty. What was Clint Eastwood thinking? He has made so many marvelous films, including films which humanize “the enemy” and challenge the myth of redemptive violence. Why this?

You all know what American Sniper is about: In this true story, Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle, an American sniper in Iraq (following the American invasion, and subsequent occupation, of Iraq in 2003) who became a great hero because he was able to kill, from his rooftop perch, more than 160 people (“terrorists”), including a Syrian sniper with a reputation of his own and women and children who were throwing bombs at American invaders.

I had heard enough positive things about the way Kyle’s family drama was depicted that I thought the film would at least be worth watching. I thought I would see the toll that being a soldier takes on the families back home and on life after Iraq. Not so much. Yes, what it showed was a heck of a lot more interesting and entertaining than all the things that happened in Iraq. And it did describe the way Kyle had lost some of his humanity in Iraq. But relatively speaking, it showed precious little of the family drama. American Sniper is foremost about Kyle’s experiences in Iraq (though having his wife on the phone while he’s being shot at is a nice touch).

As for Iraq? One of the film’s few glowing moments comes when a fellow soldier named Mark starts to question why the Americans are in Iraq at all. Kyle responds to this evident weakness by pointing out that they are not there just to protect “this piece of dirt” but to protect the people in San Diego and New York, because that’s where these “terrorists” would be going if it were not for soldiers like Kyle. Yeah, I get that. Can you imagine what it might be like for enemies from across the ocean to come into your cities and towns and start shooting at you, banging down your doors and shoving a rifle in your children’s faces? Surely Kyle’s right: Only “evil savages” (his words) would think of doing such a thing. Oh. Wait a minute. . . . Does no one see the irony there?

I am baffled by how such a film could become such an enormous blockbuster, not to mention be critically acclaimed and get the Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

Dan Fellman, the domestic distribution chief at Warner Bros., says American Sniper is so popular because it “deals with family, with patriotism and it recognizes a hero. Regardless of anything that’s come out on the negative side, the reaction from the public is so positive and this is one movie they have really supported.”

Why? For me, the film wasn’t even entertaining — it was horrific from beginning to end. Is it because people think the story of Chris Kyle somehow justifies everything the U.S. military has been doing in Iraq? After decades of feeling beaten up by global anti-Americanism, especially after the invasion of Iraq and its subsequent scandals, does American Sniper tell Americans that it was OK? They can be proud of their heroes, like Kyle, who have made the world a safer place by killing little kids who are trying to tell the invaders to go home?

The most appalling flaw in American Sniper is that there is virtually no attempt to humanize the people of Iraq, people who have suffered so much for so long. Instead, the message is that if “it” is wearing a cloth head covering, “it” is an evil savage that must be killed for the world to be safe. Surely the result is that in many quarters of the world, American Sniper, with its depiction of American soldiers invading the homes of Iraqi people and treating them like criminals, will only fuel hatred toward the American military machine.

I won’t even get into the fact that 9/11 is shown on TV not long before Kyle is shown being deployed to Iraq to “do his job,” as if there’s some link between 9/11 and Iraq. The reason those so-called terrorists were there for Kyle to shoot (and the reason the IS is there now) is exactly because Americans invaded and occupied Iraq for their own interests, among countless other crimes they committed in the Middle East. That’s what this film should have been about.

I’ve wasted enough time talking about a film that should never have been made. American Sniper gets zero stars. My mug is so far down, it’s scraping the dirt.

Vic Thiessen lives in Winnipeg, Man., and writes here, where this blog post originally appeared.

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