Two of my very favorite Clint Eastwood directed films are MYSTIC RIVER and MILLION DOLLAR BABY- one probed deeply into the corruption of the human psyche, and the other celebrated the triumph of one woman’s will to succeed in a world ruled by men - so I always go out of my way to see his work and hope not to be disappointed. This time I was disappointed because my heartstrings were not pulled, but on further reflection, I thought that the characterization of a “hero” had a complexity in the very lack of emotional “tugs” - which made sense telling the story of a man who is able to preserve his sanity being an official executioner, a job that needs him to be dispassionate and composed, and who becomes a champion of American values to his fellow compatriots. In war morality is abandoned.
AMERICAN SNIPER based on the true story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, considered the most lethal sniper in US military history - also nicknamed by his comrades “Legend” - served 4 tours of duty in Iraq and considered himself the quintessential American “patriot.” This movie is a portrait of a man who puts country above all else, a man who is steadfast in the “rightness” of his actions in protecting the honor and citizens of the United States of America; an exceptionally skilled marksman and lover of guns, and a man who was not introspective and never understood that he was in an occupied land where the population was fighting the “invader/savior” whose culture was totally different from theirs.
How do you fight against the major power in the world? You use the new tactics of war - guerrilla hit and run bombings, employing sniper sharpshooters and even indoctrinating women and children into the great beyond of martyrdom. AMERICAN SNIPER also sets up a gunslinger/HIGH NOON mano a mano duel between two exceptional skilled assassins - each convinced that murdering for one’s country and protecting one’s brothers-in-arms is the ultimate reward.
Bradley Cooper - beefed up to look like Chris Kyle gives a fairly good performance as a stoic, stone-faced and hardened Kyle relishing doing his job; knowing he is the best at what he does and making sure that he protects his”family of brothers” his fellow Navy SEALS. We see him working out physically - his flesh thickening and tightening up, as does his spirit and thirst for revenge. At what point does a job become something you cannot do without - falling in love with the “sandstorms” of war?
Eastwood also gives us flashbacks into Kyle’s childhood - a father who instills a sheep vs. wolf vs. sheepherder mentality into his boys. You protect your own (sheepherder) - no matter what the cost in order to become a man. Sienna Miller plays Chris Kyle’s wife - a stereotypical view of a woman taking care of the family, giving solace to her husband, and a mollifying device necessary to show the main character’s “soft” side, but still cliched and thinly drawn. She is background support.
Marines in Humvees their breadth filling the narrow roadways with skulls painted on them, disembarking and knocking down doors where families are huddled; soldiers ill-equipped to communicate with the population that they are administering leads to strategic errors; treating your enemy like the dusty dirt of the streets invites brutal retaliation. Both sides are heinous and savage in fighting the confused and demoralized battles that were the mainstay of being in Iraq. The “shock and awe” of this haphazardly planned war brought home thousands of veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and placed young men and women who volunteered in the name of their land into a future filled with struggle and tragedy. It was and is shameful.