Thanks to current events in the Middle East lately, American Sniper has become one of the biggest war films in history. One major aspect for this surge of popularity is the anti-war message the cast and crew has stated in interviews. Director Clint Eastwood (here), Writer Jason Hall (here), and star Bradley Cooper (here) have gone on to defend just what this movie is about and how Chris Kyle was a hero. Now, there have been a TON of anti-war movies throughout cinema history and the creators of those films make the message clear & succinct. Coming out of American Sniper though not only is the message muddled at best but you might wonder where the anti-war statements are actually coming from.
If you don’t already know American Sniper follows Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most celebrated Sniper in military history, both during his tours of Iraq and back at home. Immediately the issues with the writing become apparent with a poorly paced flashback of Kyle joining the military and romancing his wife (played by Sienna Miller). Jason Hall flashes us so darn quickly to Kyle’s exploits that we have no real understanding of what is motivating him to not only be a Navy SEAL but also a husband. In fact there is this whole other, ugly, side of Kyle’s childhood that is briefly shown to us that honestly explains a lot about his future mindset but Hall and Eastwood never addresses it again. As long as this movie showcases us the horrors of war all of this can be forgiven. Put that last sentence in your back packet though for future reference.
There is no denying that Chris Kyle, whether through this film or his memoirs, saw some truly horrifying things as a solider. While Bradley Cooper does more than a good job getting prepared for this role the writing ultimately makes him and everyone so one note. Personally I am not joking when I say I had to look up Sienna Miller’s character name (Taya by the way) because all she does is either weep for her husband or birth children. Everbody in this film expresses but the barest of opinions whether it is Kyle’s teammates grunting childish observations or someone giving the vaguest of anti-war sentiments. It is such a joke how little anti-war comments there are in this that these articles coming out of everyone involved defending it boggles the mind.
The worst of it all though is how American Sniper fails to justify Chris Kyle’s PTSD. Again, we witness a ton of truly horrific things through Kyle but Eastwood & Hall cares more about showing than having Kyle reflect on them. Most of this film is seeing set piece after set piece of action and while it has to be said Eastwood does a great job directing these moments we get so little back at home for Kyle. There are literally scenes that last under two minutes of Kyle acting out his PTSD and then we go into a lengthier scene of him blowing people away. It would have been much better to show us his home life as the basis of the film and the war scenes be quick flashbacks at most. The last fifteen minutes of this could have been the entire film but instead we need to see countless Middle Eastern rebels and citizens get murdered any way you can imagine.
Look, this review is not trying to showcase any anti-military or even anti-American sentiments. But it has to be said that American Sniper fails on every level as an anti-war piece or even a character study. By barely giving us any justifications to root for Chris Kyle all we are seeing is a man killing countless people and seeing some horrendous atrocities. When this tries to spout any anti-war comments or showcase Kyle’s PTSD issues it comes more as an afterthought than anything else. There is a fantastic movie here giving us how truly terrible war is, especially in today’s wars, but American Sniper feels more like a Call of Duty game rather than anything meaningful.