No spoilers ahead.
Trailer for the unaware:
I’m hoping this will be the start of my trek through some of the notable films given Oscar nominations this go-around. American Sniper was nominated for a Best Picture, Bradley Cooper (above playing Chris Kyle) was nominated for Best Actor, director Clint Eastwood was nominated for Best Director and a few others, like Best Adapted Screenplay, as it’s based on Kyle’s own book.
There’s been a lot of chatter, as expected, around this movie from the right, the left and the center. The right sees it as a representation of red, white and blue Americana and the left/center sees it as extolling the actions of a psychopathic sniper. Personally, I think neither view gives any credit to Eastwood’s nuance, complexity and steady hand behind the camera.
I do think Kyle’s book, which as I said is what the movie’s source material is, as outlined by The Guardian, does have many problems. Kyle seems quite vile and excited to have killed Iraqis. Case in point from the Guardian:
“In his memoir, Kyle reportedly described killing as “fun”, something he “loved”; he was unwavering in his belief that everyone he shot was a “bad guy”. “I hate the damn savages,” he wrote. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.” He bragged about murdering looters during Hurricane Katrina, though that was never substantiated.”
So, there is that to contend with. However, the movie is a separate entity onto itself. Kyle’s book and life may be the source material and the impetus behind the movie, but again, Eastwood’s presentation is not so black and white; i.e., fuck Iraqis, Americans, “Hooah!”
War fucking sucks. It’s not glossed over with lofty terms under Eastwood’s vision. It not only ripples through the men on the battle front, but the family left behind, wondering if they’ll ever come and even if they do, whether they’ll be “okay.” Not only does it suck for the Americans, but it clearly sucks for the Iraqis. Unlike Kyle’s label, the Iraqis aren’t so much seen as “savages.” Many are caught in the crossfires of a shitty war. Even the sniper, Moustafa, going after Kyle in the film, has a wife and kid. It’s just from a different perspective, a different “scope.”
And the reasons they fight war, yeah, Kyle can talk about doing it to protect America and dying for his country, but it’s obvious that his pull to do tour after tour in Iraq is to be there for his buddies. To protect them. That pull is strong and acts as a rift in his own family, as he seems to prioritize returning to the battlefield over taking care of his family or being there for them. Nonetheless, the chemistry between Kyle and his wife is palpable from the start and helps give us a nice dichotomy to the battlefield and the carnage inflicted. Well, maybe not, as it’s carnage, but domestically and within the mind and words unsaid.
Given that we are behind the scope of a sniper, the movie is intense. Shoot. Don’t shoot. Shoot. Don’t shoot. But it’s a little kid. Shoot. Don’t shoot.
Scott Foundas from Variety, hits the point home. American Sniper is not staking out a side, left or right, pro-war or anti-war, or any of that; it’s merely operating within the messy terrain of the “fog of war.” Nothing is so easily understood or defined, except that war is messy on both sides and especially for its individual actors.
I haven’t seen those nominated in the categories with Cooper and Eastwood, but I think it’s still safe to say both earned their nominations. Cooper commands a presence as Kyle while at the same time manifesting the subtle fire raging behind his eyes caused by probable PTSD. Likewise, Eastwood takes a subject without much nuance, as written by Kyle, and adds layer upon layer of it and allows us into the homes, literally, of the Iraqis we warred with in Iraq.
I think an Eleanor Roosevelt quote is fitting here. “No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war.”