American Sniper

What do you expect when you go and see a Clint Eastwood film? A washed out filter with a colour palette consisting of muted greens and greys? Gritty male characters with emotional issues? Maybe a scene that stands out for being particularly brutal but never gratuitous? All of the above for sure. What about some CGI effects that are so bad you actually laugh out loud? Sound familiar? No, so you can imagine my surprise during American Sniper when my eyes were met with some laughable CGI effects that were, in my opinion, totally not needed (the scene in question was a rodeo, is it that hard to hire a stunt man?) Fortunately enough this was probably the only bad thing I have to say about American Sniper but it has stuck with me because it was that bad that I keep replaying the obscenity of it over and over in my head.

I was a bit dubious about seeing this to be honest. In general I don’t really enjoy war films. I’m a pacifist and anti-war and usually find that with a lot of films in this genre the protagonists are made out to be heroes and war is glossed over as some kind of guns-blazing-glory that should be celebrated and honoured. What American Sniper did so wonderfully was highlight the true horror of what war really is, and through the intense POV shots we sit with Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) and experience every intense, gut-wrenching and terrifying moment first hand. As one would expect from an Eastwood film there are scenes of intense barbarity but it never feels too over the top or out of place, the scenes merely serve to reiterate the hell that war zones actually are.

American Sniper also takes us away from the battlefield and portrays the difficulty of adjusting back to normal family life when one has witness such unspeakable evil. And this is where Cooper shines. Anybody who has ever met a regular all-American patriot can account for the accuracy of Cooper’s portrayal of Chris Kyle. Those well rehearsed with current feminist debate will know that a key issue at the moment is the way men are forced to be detached from their emotions in order to be a ‘real man’ (whatever that is) and Chris Kyle is the embodiment of this phenomenon – always polite and respectful but hellbent on maintaining a heroic fa├žade instead of talking about and dealing with his emotions at the risk of compromising his masculinity. It is an issue that many veterans still suffer with and by depicting it cinematically Eastwood has perpetrated potentially life saving discussion. Cooper is excellent as we see him literally regress and become a shadow of the man he once was by keeping that stiff upper lip, only to eventually progress and combat his PTSD by openly confronting his disorder.

The film has been slated for being anti-Muslim but of course it was going to be, the story is told from the perspective of a conservative patriot from Texas who loves his country. They are devils in his eyes and so of course this is how they are portrayed in the film. Similar can be said about the way the ‘bad guys’ suffer from a lack of character development – Kyle doesn’t see them as people he sees them as targets and as such they have no need for in depth background exploration. I did find it a bit off-putting that the key villain was so hot though; I found it hard to hate him!

It has also been dubbed as anti-American and this again I have to disagree with. There were definitely a few ‘MURCA!’ moments of course, it couldn’t be an American war film without them, but what American Sniper does so wonderfully is it strips away the glory and the heroes and shows these men for what they really are: real people suffering real physical and psychological trauma for the sake of fighting the freedom of their country. In some aspects, the way American Sniper breaks down the war situation into such a brutal reality actually made me respect those who choose to serve their country much more than any film that glorifies the situation.

American Sniper is a much-needed exploration of the real abhorrence of war both on tour and at home and the tragic repercussions that war related injuries, both physical and mental, have on veterans and their families. It reiterates the truth that there are no war heroes, only victims. Battle is not a game of Call of Duty but a very real and traumatic event that leaves long lasting scars that may eventually take you long after the fight is over.