I 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.