American Sniper

Year: 2014
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Clint Eastwood
Producer: Bradley Cooper/Clint Eastwood
Writer: Jason Hall/Chris Kyle
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

In 1985 the first sequel to First Blood saw John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) return to Vietnam to rescue some POWs and kick the country's arse as revenge for not winning the war the first time around.

Watching American Sniper prompts one to wonder what any Vietnamese audiences felt about the depiction of America finishing a job the world has since agreed was an unjust and murderous idea in the first place.

In the same way, here's the problem with any movie about the Iraq war. As much as everyone involved wants American Sniper to be about the battle fears and familial struggles of Marine sharpshooter Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) and his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) rather than geopolitics, it's impossible to decouple the suffering anybody went through from the reasoning behind Kyle and his squadmates being there.

It's the elephant in the room of the movie, and scenes of geared-up American soldiers kicking in the doors of Iraqi families, waving guns around and brusquely interrogating parents in front of children are almost offensive – just like the real footage of similar things on live news broadcasts was and just as horrible as the idea of a roaming gang of barbarians determined to kill American soldiers.

It also doesn't help that when we meet Chris he's depicted as the kind of American most of the world (and a lot of liberal America itself) hates – a beer swilling, cowboy-hat wearing redneck of the kind that believed everything they were told about Al Qaeda and Arabs.

After his brutally firm but loving father teaches the young Chris how to hunt, he becomes the US military's most successful sniper ever when he ships over to Iraq for the first of four tours, leaving his wife Taya behind to bear and raise their kids virtually alone.

There's some inherent and very cinematic tension in scenes like the ones from the trailer where Kyle has to decide whether or not to shoot a little boy running towards the convoy he's protecting. But as much as you want it to just be like a modern mythic Western (which Cooper told reporters he considered it), it's just impossible to disconnect from the politics of such bloodshed.

When it evolves/descends into a much more old fashioned action movie as Kyle and his comrades end up pursuing an enemy sharpshooter that's almost as dangerous as Kyle himself, it seems to be because the movie's filling gaps to cast a classic good versus evil narrative where there really wasn't one.

All that aside, Eastwood's direction is better than we've seen in awhile. The outsized respect he gets is more about appreciation for his cinema legacy – his films are actually very workaday, at times pedestrian. He puts you right in the thick of the battle scenes and gives them excitement (which again leaves a strange taste in your mouth) and urgency.

Within itself, the movie is seldom better than fine. As a cultural artefact, it's just another voice in the ever-deafening 'support our troops' chorus that keeps the contemporary world from questioning the wisdom of constant military action.

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