(American biographical war drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall)
American Sniper can be easily categorized into a war – movie, but with many underlying layers to it- emotions, faith, duty and certain viewpoints which are of course debatable.
Based on the real life story of Chris Kyle, acclaimed as the most lethal sniper in the US military history who had 160 official killings to his credit, the film solely speaks about ‘ Chris’, though the war is the backdrop. Nevertheless, through him many perspectives come to the fore, the first one being the definition of ‘Evil ‘which is no doubt, Iraq. If we keep aside that particular aspect for a while, the film is worth watching for its sheer display of emotions – a man caught between his duties towards his country where he has to take lives to protect his people and the humanity in him.
When the movie opens, Kyle is on his first operation at Fallujah, Iraq. He is on the rooftop of a building aiming at his enemy. His first target is a woman and a son. The woman, presumably his mother hands over a grenade to the little boy and he is about to throw it towards the convoy. One single shot - the boy is down. Chris is unflinching in his duty but is sad without remorse that he has to gun down the little boy.
It’s the lesson taught by his father that he should be a sheepdog who protects his flock, makes him one of the best snipers. When he guns down his enemy, there’s no remorse written over his face. He is clear – the evil should not thrive. The humanity in him is intact, but that does not deter him from taking over his enemy irrespective of who it is. But when he is away from the war - front, the gore and the violence consume him. As the film progress, we could see the real man whom he has subdued for a while. The scene where he struggles with himself when he has to aim another little boy who picks up the weapon dropped by a terrorist who has been shot by Chris clearly reveals his dilemma. When the child drops the weapon without firing, he heaves a sigh of relief.
Bradley Cooper is at his best that we could never find a trace of him in his character. Sienna Miller, though her scenes are a few, her acting made her presence felt all through the film. Her scenes throw light on what the families of the soldiers go through.
Chris might be the ‘legend’ as everyone calls him, but, when he’s home, we can see a mentally torn Chris struggling with the conflict that’s brewing inside his mind. But he refuses to acknowledge it. Besides, it is also the protector image which is ingrained in his mind right from the inception of his childhood aggravates his dilemma. He feels that when his buddies are dying in Iraq, he is with his family unable to save them.
It draws our attention to a universal issue – the trauma experienced by the soldiers all across due to their exposure to wars. Whether they are being addressed is the burning question. The scene in a bar where Chris spends time before going home after the war-front is a perfect example of that. As the audience are immersed in his dilemma, the scene cuts to another shot which is the last shot where Chris is seen enjoying with the family and goes out with a war veteran who later kills him. It seems as if the issue has been abruptly cut rather than delving into it a little further.
For a foreigner watching the movie, the answer to the question ‘ why did the war veteran kill Chris’, will be ambiguous, leaving him/her to rely on Google. When you search, you will figure out that he was killed by a psychopath who was affected by the sheer violence he had to see while he was deployed.
Eastwood and Jason decided to cut the final scene after a request from Chris Kyle’s widow – Taya Kyle. The team of American Sniper came up with five different endings once Kyle’s widow informed them that “ This is going to be how my children remember their father, so I want you to get it right.” The film ends with the ‘real funeral scene’ of Chris Kyle.
When every intention of Clint Eastwood was to portray war as something that annihilating, there’s another side to that portrayal – Dehumanisation of Iraq
Though not explicitly, Eastwood has shown it as an evil that has to be obliterated which makes the story one-sided.The explanation on why ‘Iraq’ became one of the ‘axis of evil’ is glossed over conveniently. Iraq is completely dehumanised in the movie.
Barring this single aspect, he deserves every appreciation for making one of the best war movies which is also the highest grossing war movie ever made.
Interestingly, the release of the movie ran parallel with the trial of Eddie Ray Youth who was guilty of murdering Chris Kyle.
The movie was nominated for six Oscars including best actor for Bradley Cooper and best picture. It won several other awards including Academy Award for best sound editing.