American Sniper – Little More than a Missed Opportunity

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 11.55.53 AMI suppose I should not be surprised here. The Interwebs are all abuzz over Clint Eastwood’s latest effort at war drama, American Sniper. This film offers the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, America’s most lethal crack shot, who saw several tours in the Middle East, and was killed stateside in 2013 by a disturbed Army veteran he was trying to help.

Discourse, if one can call it that, concerning this film has distilled to a troubling reflection of the political polarization in this country. Those who lean right claim that the film honors the greatest American hero since Audie Murphy – a true flag-raising inspiration. Those who lean left say the film celebrates a racist war-mongering sociopath.

Internet pundits have reduced American Sniper to a political football, and yet none have stopped to consider that this is really a crappy film – no matter what your political affiliations.

Kyle, as portrayed in American Sniper, is nearly emotionless and almost entirely one-dimensional. Eastwood misses a golden opportunity to unpack the psychological and emotional roller coaster that combat veterans surely experience, both in the field and back home. Eastwood attempts an artistic evaluation of the human experience in war and gives us a flat monotone. Based on the film alone – do we empathize with, reject, celebrate, or feel remorse for Kyle? Not really. All (or nearly all) of the emotion stirred by American Sniper is incidental to the film’s story itself, not to mention its main character – the hullabaloo is a post screening layer of punditry applied only because many feel the need to take sides on a divisive topic and a war fraught with controversy.

There are plenty of films that offer nuanced and beautifully staged depictions of humanity faced with the grim realities of combat: The Thin Red Line, Full Metal Jacket, and The Hurt Locker come immediately to mind – and there are many others. But American Sniper, politics aside, falls disappointingly short.

With compliments,

Keith

 

4 thoughts on “American Sniper – Little More than a Missed Opportunity”

  1. Keith,

    Okay, so here is what I observed.

    I think when people left the theater it was the quietest walk out I have ever heard, no cheering. This perhaps had to do with how the movie closed, Kyle’s murder.

    As a veteran who served in a US Army Special Forces Battalion overseas, I can tell you the movie did capture the way a service person comes home and the observes the United States going on like nothing else is going on. Kyle makes this off hand comment about cell phones, shopping, etc (America going on its merry way). This is the dissonance that you are talking about in your post, where service people coming back to the states are like “What the f**k?” I know I personally experienced that.

    But, with that said, you are right, the emotional depth, and feel for the characters could have definitely been better rounded out. I do not feel the movie was overburdened by American jingoism and hero worship; okay maybe one scene with the hummers painted up, but beyond that not a lot.

    Where this movie could have shone even more was the emotional connection between husband and wife. I’ve experienced this too and its negative consequences as a veteran. Yes, I saw the movie and the depth of character connection was not there for me.

    On this one I agree with you Keith, 3 out 5 stars (2.5 on a bad day).

    Luke

    1. Thanks for the comment, Luke – and I am happy that you are back stateside safe and sound! I think I am going to give this film a second look once it is available on Netflix – I think I will be able to write a more nuanced review…at least in terms of what I know from my work on veterans. Having never served, it is really impossible for me to understand combat, but I think I do understand a lot about the relationship between veterans and the homefront. As you mentioned, this layer of the film is a little thin.

      1. Keith,

        Yes, there is a whole seam of emotion, drama, and tragedy lying within any service person’s return to the United States. And by all means explore it-as it sounds like you are doing.

        The trick is to respectfully (I would hope) explore this not always positive experience. I think this could be a solid angle for a story for a film or a book, and you could certainly understand and portray it (with or without the actual experience). Maybe something redemptive to put a positive spin on the back end…dark stories don’t tend to sell well.

        Best,

        Luke

        1. I think that would make a very interesting film – one that would allow for intelligent discourse without the politicking.

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