We went to see American Sniper when it first came out and I would have written on it right at the time but there was something about it that remained suspended in mid-air that I couldn’t quite pull down. Today I discovered that Clint Eastwood had opposed both the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan (which I found out here in a really excellent take on the film). I now see the movie more clearly, and also see why it did not blow me away as I had been by Unbroken.
The movie is the Iraqi war without the politics. There are two sets of soldiers, each side fighting for the values it believes in. Chris Kyle, the American sniper, is matched by an Iraqi sniper who is equally committed to his own side, and is as patriotic as Kyle. There is no difference in bravery on the two sides. If anything separates them, it is technology. It is a patriotic film in the tradition of “my country, right or wrong”.
Except that it is Chris Kyle’s country that is right and not wrong, although that would not be the view of the soldiers on the other side, nor of the thousands of young Muslims going off from their homes to fight in the Middle East.
It is welcoming to see a film in which the bravery and honour of the American soldier is shown so clearly. And I have to assume that Kyle is more or less as he is portrayed, which is brave beyond any possibility of my ever understanding how someone can do what he did. And he is no more brave than the others who fight along side of him. But then he is no braver, either, than the Iraqis who attack him in numbers even though the American army is armed with technologies, such as armoured cars and helicopters, unavailable to their side.
What the film surprisingly did not do was dwell on why we are fighting this war, but perhaps that wasn’t its purpose. It did show 911, and it identified some barbarities by the Iraqis. But without the purpose, without an explanation about why the fighting is and was necessary, there was little in the film to make it clear why Chris Kyle and the others had been putting their lives on the line, and what difference it would make if we lost and pulled out. I, of course, bring this understanding along to the film on my own. I only wish there were more of it in the storyline. It seems that most Americans already understand the point which is why the film has broken box office records. But since the reason why this war is necessary never seems to get explained anywhere else, it’s a shame it was not more fully explained here. It is not a film designed to change anyone’s mind. The only marker for me is how much the left hates the film. It may therefore be a better film than I have been able to understand for myself.
The trailer, by the way, shows the opening sequence of the film. You will have to go yourself to see what happens next. As for the ratings, as per usual in a film like this, the audiences have liked it more than the critics.