Media Review: “American Sniper”

Recent box office smash “American Sniper” seems to have polarized critics and audiences across the country, with fans of the hit hailing it a moving tribute to those serving in our armed forces while others accuse it of being overly conservative and Islamophobic, with some even going so far as to consider it war propaganda.

However, these critiques are largely missing the point. This movie is not political. At all. Nor does it try to make a statement about war, our country or our soldiers. In fact, that may just be the film’s biggest problem.

The biographical war picture, which recently garnered an impressive [and, to be completely honest, surprising] six Oscar nominations, focuses on the life and career of real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. The film follows Kyle as he serves four tours.

A bulked up Bradley Cooper portrays Kyle in what is no doubt his most impressive and transformative role to date, which earned him his third [well-deserved] Oscar nod. He completely immerses himself within the character and gives us a strong, complex central figure we’re willing to follow into any situation.

Cooper is no doubt receiving help though from the strong leadership of veteran Clint Eastwood, who after a series of disappointing films in recent years, seems to be finally getting back on track. From the beginning scene in which Kyle is forced to make a call about whether or not to shoot a young boy who may be carrying a bomb, Eastwood puts us in the middle of the actions with carefully executed shots and moments brim-full of tension and


Though a good majority of the film is spent in Iraq and deals with the war and touches on its effects on Iraqi citizens as well as American veterans who have served there, it unfortunately only bothers to do so superficially. The focus is too much on Kyle, and this ultimately hurts the film. Viewers are denied context, other points of view, real commentary on the war and the lives of Iraqis. Due to the movie’s narrow scope, we miss out on some of the film’s most important themes, weakening the movie in comparison to other successful post-9/11 military films, such as Kathryn Bigelow’s “Hurt Locker,” which did so expertly.

Other characters and their issues, be it with the war itself or injury on the job, only serve importance as to how they affect Kyle. Even Kyle’s wife Taya [an underused Sienna Miller], the only other lead character in the movie, is ill-defined, and her struggle as a wife and mother in a constant state missing and fearing for the life of her husband is more or less glossed over.

Meanwhile, what should be one of the most important elements, Kyle’s difficulty and PTSD after his return home and his journey to recovery and reconnecting with his family and society, is designated to some painfully short and too quickly resolved scenes tucked away at the last half hour of the film.

In the end, “American Sniper” raises some very significant questions about war, U.S. military involvement overseas, death, the difficulties veterans face in readjusting to life back home following their time abroad and the pains military families face. But, despite a gripping leading performance and meticulous direction, it fails to fully delve into or explore any of them. It’s difficult not to interpret this as screenwriter Jason Dean Halland attempting to play it safe and not attract controversy in the political spheres [which happened anyway], and that’s a real shame because this film had so much more to say.