American Sniper, or, The Obligatory Think Piece

Quite the tagline.

Quite the tagline.

I worry that war movies present war as something to aspire to. That they challenge young people to seek a dramatization of glory, portrayed on a big screen in slow motion with an orchestral score, that doesn’t quite exist in real life. So when a film like American Sniper comes along and uses a man’s kill count as its selling point I can’t help but feel conflicted. After all there are a hell of a lot of inappropriate ways to adapt not only a man’s life but his body count as well.

Do you use it promotionally and task young viewers to join the armed forces and kill hundreds of terrorists? Do you use it to display the atrocities of war and rally against the War on Terror as a whole?

Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of American Sniper, by and large, takes the safest and probably wisest route and does neither, choosing instead to focus specifically on Chris Kyle, the man whose memoir the film is based on, rather than panning out to reveal one political platform or another. It focuses squarely on one man’s experiences and doesn’t bother to posit much beyond them. It’s more of a biopic than it is a war movie.

American Sniper isn’t a dialogue between ideologies or a philosophical foray into the War on Terror. It’s a film about a guy going far away from his home and family to kill people in a war zone. And it’s a film that doesn’t really do much to condemn or condone that narrative. It doesn’t vilify Chris Kyle and – promotional material aside – the film itself arguably doesn’t go out of its way to turn him into an action hero poster child either.

Ultimately Eastwood’s adaptation of Kyle’s life leaves a lot up to the viewer. Whatever feelings on the military and the War on Terror you bring in to American Sniper will only wind up reinforced by the movie’s noncommittal politics. Whether you see the conflict as a misguided occupation in the name of self-interest or a valiant crusade for freedom you’ll find evidence of your claims here.

I went into American Sniper with a deep suspicion of war movies and uncertainty regarding the glorification of lethality and I walked out of American Sniper with a deep suspicion of war movies and uncertainty regarding the glorification of lethality.

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