Saturday, January 24, 2015

American Sniper

American Sniper is a war movie about Chris Kyle, who killed at least 160 people (probably closer to 250) between 2003 and 2009 while serving as a Navy Seal in Iraq. It stars Bradley Cooper as Kyle, with Sienna Miller as his wife Taya. The movie follows two stories, one true and one created for dramatic effect. The first is the story of Kyle himself - his background, his relationship with his wife, and his career as a soldier. The second is Kyle's hunt for an enemy sniper, Mustafa. Some of the other portrayed events happened, but the main Iraq-based portion of the movie plot did not.

The Mustafa storyline ties together the war scenes, and works well as far as plot structure, tension, and drama. It gives the film a villain, and gives the character a resolution to the war that the real Kyle did not have. The Kyle-as-human storyline mostly revolves around his wife Taya. Cooper and Miller deliver fantastic performances; Cooper's Oscar nomination is well deserved.

Technically speaking, this is a fantastic film. The direction, editing, and script are all excellent. There was no obnoxious shaky-cam. My problem with the film is that I don't know what it's trying to do.

There are two kinds of films - those which are made to be fun, and those that are made to be important. American Sniper is not fun, not remotely. It is not an action film, even though it has action scenes and a large body count. No, this is a film which is made to be important, to have a message. I don't know what that message is, though.

As previously mentioned, this movie is about only two things - Kyle and the Iraq War - so the message must relate to one or both of them.

Kyle as portrayed in the film, ignoring the last few minutes, is not a great man. Most of the tension of the Kyle-as-a-human plot stems from this. He was not a good husband or father. The movie is very clear on this. It seems unlikely, then, that the message is that we should celebrate the memory of this man as a person.

The film's portrayal of the Iraq War is more troubling. No attempt is made to address the purpose of the war - it is just there, a constant ongoing thing to which Kyle returns repeatedly. While the film fabricates a story arc inside the war to give Kyle an ending point, it is never implied that any of Kyle's actions contributed to any kind of progress toward a resolution of the war itself. In this film, war is just a thing that exists, a setting in which Kyle can kill the people who are trying to kill the people on his side.

At no point in this movie are the Iraqi people ever treated as humans, with the debatable exception of one family. Otherwise they are treated as objects or targets, with no lives or motivations that do not relate to the Americans. Multiple characters refer to them as savages. Is this the message that the movie wants to convey? Hoo-rah America and let's celebrate the man who killed a whole lot of savages in the name of America?

As a last note, the character of Kyle's wife Taya bothers me. The real Taya wrote a book about Kyle, gives speeches about him, and was heavily involved in the movie production. Miller, as previously mentioned, does a fine acting job. But the character exists only in relation to Kyle. She has no job, no hobbies, no friends. Nothing else about her exists aside from her relationship with Kyle and her ability to bear children.

Performance: 4.5/5
Plot: 3/5
Production: 4.5/5
Overall: 2/5
Bechdel: Fail (D)
Mako Mori: Fail
What are these?

Fun Movies

  1. Blackhat

Serious Movies

  1. American Sniper

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