Controversial war film provides for healthy discussion

Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” has, by far, been one of the most difficult films for me to review.

Why? Because, unlike some movies, where a line in the sand is drawn solely on the basis of taste and subjectivity, “American Sniper” dares to challenge its audience with a more pressing aspect: Their patriotism, and corresponding morality.

Audiences have flocked to screenings over the past week. Fueled by the response of both patriotic America and cinematic aficionados, the film has sold out blocks of tickets and raked in over $150 million in just two weeks.

However, with the film developing into a cultural phenomenon so suddenly, it was only a matter of time before a backlash took precedence.

Both the highly conservative and prominently liberal have taken firm stances on how the film represents the Iraq War, the United States’ motivations for combat, impressions of the Arabic people and Chris Kyle – the “American Sniper” in question.

With 160 kills, U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played fearlessly by Bradley Cooper) is deemed the most lethal sniper in American history, but didn’t become so overnight. “American Sniper,” based on Kyle’s memoir and adapted by Jason Wolf, shows the highlights of the four tours he took on in Iraq, as well as his time at home spent after his service.

After all the cake and watermelon surrounding Kyle’s thoughts on the morality of murder for his country, or his quotes on the Arabic people, what we’re left with is the film. Whether you believe Kyle to be an American hero or a racist psychopath – again, no judgment either way – what needs to be addressed is the quality of “American Sniper.”

And from what I saw, I found enjoyable. Fundamentally and ethically flawed, but still enjoyable.

As a piece of direction for Clint Eastwood, it’s probably his most taut and emotionally-driven work to date. Though scenes depicting combat aren’t necessarily ground-breaking, Eastwood deserves praise for how well he explores the emotional root behind Kyle’s duties, especially through his time in between tours.

Additionally, any film that brings light to the struggles of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) deserves to be noticed. The many scenes of Kyle’s battles with depression refuse to pull punches, yet are still treated with a sense of dignity.

Finally, I dare not spoil the ending, but in my opinion, its epilogue is one of the most perfect, humbling ways to honor a subject I’ve ever seen on film – an ending so powerful it left the sold out audience I saw it with last Friday utterly speechless while exiting the theater.

As highly effective as “American Sniper’s” emotional moments are, however, I still have some complaints.

The film’s highlights, while undoubtedly impactful, remain just that – highlights. There are still a lot of low points in the film that tend to drag, and a few subplots squeezed in an attempt to balance out the story that ultimately go nowhere. While not enough to make the film unenjoyable, they’re still issues that turned me off to loving “American Sniper.”

And while never explicitly addressed, the film has an impressionable look at the depiction of terrorist groups that could, in turn, find their way towards the prejudice of all Arabic people. As long audiences aren’t motivated to blur the lines between terrorist groups and all Arabic and Muslim people, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Overall, “American Sniper” is an emotional powerhouse, with flaws that range from minor to moderate. It’s not the best film of 2014, nor is it even one of the best films about war, but its interest in honoring its subject and displaying the raw emotion behind him makes it worth seeing at least once before passing judgment.

Whether you praise “American Sniper” or despise it, one thing is indisputable: It’s keeping the conversation going.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015 and is filed under A&E. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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