Sat 14 Mar 2015
It is very difficult to judge this film without referring to politics. One can just read the viewers opinions in IMDB.
One of the first scenes in ‘American Sniper’ defines the world of the hero. It’s a childhood scene. The hero as a kid sits at the family table with his father, mother, brother. The father tells his view of the world. It is divided in sheep, heard-keepers and predators. Predators try to kill, sheep risk to be slaughtered. Nobody in this family will be a sheep. The ‘yes, Sir’ typical to the traditional American way of kids addressing fathers follows. This is the same ‘yes, Sir’ used in the Army.
Clint Eastwood makes films with a talent that is in competition only with his skills as an actor. My problem with many of his films is that his heroes are so far of my world that I cannot avoid detesting them, as much as I admire Clint’s artistic skills. True again for this film about the most decorated sniper in the history of the US Army.
Now, the issue is that the hero described in Clint Eastwood’s most recent film is a real character. The authors of the script did not even change his name (it’s Chris Kyle) and many of the facts and situations described are taken from a book inspired by reality. We are shown a young man who decides to switch from rodeos to becoming a soldier after seeing the news on TV about the American embassies being blown up at the end of the 90s. 9/11 follows (again as a piece of TV news) and this is enough to convince him that his tours of duty in Iraq serve the noblest possible cause. If he ever asks questions about the policies of his government, if he ever has any doubts about his life being torn to shreds by the conflict between his duties as a soldier and the duties to his family – these are never shown on screen.
There are two other memorable scenes I took from the film. In one of them an Arab kid takes a rocket launcher and almost fires it. The hero prays that the kid drops the weapon so that he would not be obliged to kill him. His prayers are heard. Later in the film an Army shrink asks him whether he has any regrets about what he did during his service (he is credited with 160 enemies killed in action as a sniper). ‘No, Sir’ he answers, the day he will face the Creator he will have clean conscience about each of them. I could not avoid asking myself the question – what if that kid would not have thrown the weapon and would have been the 161st?
Can soldiers involved in the bloodiest of the wars ever come home? Mentally, with their souls intact? Such questions are asked by many films and are asked implicitly by ‘American Sniper’ as well. Apparently the film takes no position while it describes a real life character who can be read both as a hero and as a casualty of war. I can but admire the splendid acting of Bradley Cooper who simply brought back Chris Kyle to life of screen. Eastwood’s story telling skills are exquisite, and while I am no big fan of war scenes I liked the way he staged these. I liked less the one-sided view of the conflict and the situations in Iraq, but let us recognize that this is a film about an American soldier and his perspective of the war. The fact that this is the kind of hero glorified by the society tells more than anything about the world we live in.