Clint Eastwood had a job to do – to tell the story of Navy SEAL and celebrated military sniper Chris Kyle.
And he did it. Masterfully.
The U.S.-Iraq War that began in 2003, like all wars, became ugly and complicated as soon as the fighting began. Throughout American Sniper there is moral complexity. Not once is the war presented as anything close to a black-and-white narrative.
Chris Kyle becomes increasingly damaged throughout his Iraq experience and his family suffers greatly. He suffers greatly. Sure, the soldiers show camaraderie through macho rhetoric and boasting, but no one seems completely sure why they’re there. They talk about “bad guys,” and we certainly see some really bad guys (like “The Butcher“) but also civilians who aren’t necessarily bad but are treated as such.
Only one thing is certain: Iraq is a mess. One of Kyle’s fellow soldiers says he doesn’t really understand what they’re fighting for anymore. Kyle’s younger brother said of Iraq as he was leaving, “f*ck this place.”
Chris Kyle’s fame as America’s “most lethal sniper” is not something he embraces fully and certainly not comfortably. He wrestles with it. He cries about it. He deals with it, barely.
If you were a supporter of the Iraq War or a more aggressive U.S. foreign policy in general, you would probably find yourself agreeing with the soldiers’ mission. That doesn’t make the movie “pro-war.” It means the viewer is. You have to ignore or dismiss a lot of tragedy to be so one-sided about what these soldiers are going through. I don’t even think most Americans who thought the Iraq War was just could watch this with that kind of emotional detachment.
As someone who opposed the Iraq War and thinks much of our foreign policy is wasteful and wrongheaded, I saw a number of people who generally agree with me portray American Sniper as somehow being “pro-war” propaganda. Apparently, we didn’t see the same movie.
I consider American Sniper a generally anti-war movie because all war is horrible and Eastwood pulls no punches in demonstrating this fact. When everyone left the movie I attended, it was dead quiet. No one was cheering. They were reflecting.
But calling this film anti-war would say as much about me as the movie. Portraying it one-sidedly as “pro-war” or “anti-war” says more about the critics than it does American Sniper.