American Sniper, staring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle and Sienna Miller as Taya Kyle, was directed by Clint Eastwood and inspired by the life of Chris Kyle as told in his book American Sniper. Chris Kyle, a navy seal sniper with 160 confirmed kills during his tours in Iraq, was patriotic Texan who was inspired to serve in the defense of his country. Kyle entered the war in Iraq at one of its most volatile points, when the coalition and U.S. forces were battling against insurgent forces in Fallujah, and American Sniper depicts some of the horrors of that time.
Known for films like Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, and American Sniper, all of which were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Eastwood does not seem shy about exploring controversial issues through film. In American Sniper, Eastwood explores a controversial issue that he explored in the past in Unforgiven.
The issue that viewers may grapple with, from the first scene to the final credits, is the issue of ending another person’s life. What is murder under most circumstances is considered heroic in war, and the conflicting nature of that perspective is not easily resolved. In American Sniper the audience is invited into to observe the emotional angst and bold actions of a soldier, before she or he chooses to end the life of his or her enemy.
Complicating the controversy of taking a life in a war zone is the recent history behind the film. Many films seem to be capitalizing on recent historical events by adapting them to the big screen, but in many of these cases there may be insufficient hindsight to make the most of the story. In the case of American Sniper, the events and results of the Iraq War are still being interpreted.
Still, the film’s impact was broadly felt. When the credits rolled at a theater in Springfield, Missouri, the audience was silent. It seemed that no one uttered a word before leaving the room.
But, in other spheres of influence the film was met with criticism. The report of 160 confirmed kills in the defense of one’s country may pleasurably impress some while causing others to cringe in anger or frustration. Snipers may be slightly more removed from a battle, but does that discredit the responsibilities, dangers, and difficulties of their situations?
As American Sniper makes clear, the protagonist is highly motivated to defend the vulnerable whether that is his brother, his family, his nation’s citizens, or his fellow soldiers. The protagonist is also willing to work very hard and put himself in harm’s way in order to defend others. In addition to the dedication and protective instinct that the main character portrays, American Sniper exposes the importance of rehabilitating from tragedies of war.
The film may leave the audience with questions to reflect on. Are veterans well-enough appreciated? Are citizens aware of the harsh realities of a war on foreign soil? Are the atrocities of war avoidable or inevitable?
American Sniper may not be a film that one desires to watch multiple times, but it is a good reminder of the complicated realities of war. There is no easy answer for the harshness that this film presents. American Sniper reminds the audience of the consequences that battles have on the warrior while demonstrating the internal conflicts soldiers face on and off the battlefield. If the viewer can empathize with the film’s characters, he or she will likely find a broader, fuller perspective of what it’s like to be a warrior.