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MOVIE REVIEW: Walking the fine line of war in AMERICAN SNIPER



Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Produced by: Village Roadshow Pictures
Written By: Jason Hall
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman
MTRCB Rating: PG-13
Genre: , ,
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Tense, gripping, and a poignant take on the life of America's most lethal sniper.


The themes of the film might not please everyone.

Clint Eastwood takes us to the frontlines of war in American Sniper. Did it succeed in delivering its intended message? Read on, and find out.

Posted January 22, 2015 by


In the days leading to the release of Clint Eastwood’s latest work American Sniper, there has been numerous discussions regarding Chris Kyle, the titular sniper whose autobiography was based upon. Truth be told, I haven’t thoroughly read his book yet nor have sufficient knowledge about his life so I am not quipped to react on his views. Furthermore, there’s a questionable haze at the very least surrounding his expressed worldview as well as the veracity of the incidents he’s described. Since Kyle tragically passed away in 2013, his input is an essential piece of information that will forever be missing: Whether his insights about his four-tour experience had changed or otherwise is something we’ll never get to know.

Having said that, despite the massive uproar and polarized reception Sniper’s been getting, I decided to place my judgment on the movie based not on Chris Kyle’s account, but in accordance to the merits and themes it presented. After all, it would be unfair to lambast the movie without taking a profound look at the film, and where it truly stands.

Walking The Fine Line

The film does not quite glorify the American role in the Iraq war, but it won’t displease those who supported it either.

Eastwood walks a fine line – or has a bet each way, if you prefer. He has been public about his opposition to that war, but the critique here remains personal and subtle. It’s the story of one man’s war and the toll it took on him and his family. It’s not about why the US went to war in Iraq, although we do see Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) and his new wife Taya (Sienna Miller) reacting with anger and shock to the television images of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001. If he hadn’t already been desperate to get into combat, that made him more certain about the rightness of what he was about to do.

Bradley Cooper's Chris Kyle ponders the veracity of the war in American Sniper. Photo by Warner Bros Pictures.

Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle ponders the veracity of the war in American Sniper. Photo by Warner Bros Pictures.

Kyle left soon after on the first of four tours of Iraq, as a newly trained Navy SEAL, with an ambition to become a sniper. The book he wrote later makes clear he was gung-ho, full of simple Texas truths and wholesome Christian certainty. Dodging tracers in the helicopter on his first mission makes him fret: “Damn, I thought. We’re going to get shot down before I even get a chance to smoke someone.”

That line doesn’t make it into the movie: it would make him less sympathetic. Even so, there’s something dark and bleak about this man. Kyle became the most successful sniper in US military history – with something like 160 “kills”. His work supporting advancing troops by hiding on rooftops in Fallujah and killing “hostiles” made him legendary, but Eastwood is interested in the moral dilemmas that such a man faces – even when he has an unshakeable belief in the rightness of what he’s doing.

That’s why the film begins with an agonising choice: Kyle is on a roof watching through his scope as a woman emerges from a house in front of oncoming Americans, somewhere in Iraq. He watches her hand a rocket grenade to a small boy, who then runs toward the troops. With no supporting vision, his commanders in the rear tell him it’s his call. Eastwood then cuts to Texas, and Kyle as a boy hunting with his dad. He kills a deer with a clean shot and earns his father’s praise. The dilemmas don’t get any easier as the film develops, either at home or in the field.

The Tolls Of War

The film delves head on to the weight a soldier carries every time he treads to the battlefield, and it does not stop from there. It also dropped an inescapable fact: Nobody wins in a war. There would always be scars, some, lasting for years.

Case in point: Kyle’s apparent Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This was even made complicated by the complex psychology of Kyle. He knows he’s saving lives by taking them; he hates the enemy enough to find killing them easy. After two tours he hates war in general, but he’s enjoying himself too much in this one to quit. Back home with wife and newborn baby, he worries about the men he’s not saving.

The movie also examines the relationship of Chris Kyle and his wife Taya (played by Sienna Miller). Photo by Warner Bros Pictures.

The movie also examines the relationship of Chris Kyle and his wife Taya (played by Sienna Miller). Photo by Warner Bros Pictures.

None of this surprised me. We’ve seen it before, but Eastwood is good at making it seem raw and personal, largely by the care he takes in building a character, and the situations that will test them. If there is anything that distinguishes his recent movies, it is the room he gives actors to create a character, and the awful moral choices they confront. Bradley Cooper responds to the challenge by making Kyle seem both modest and naive, ruthless and cold-blooded, ambitious and self-effacing, all the while ratcheting up the signs of raging internal tension. He’s never as easy with it as he pretends and the self-justifications get harder and harder.

Some have called it a movie glorifying a killer, but I didn’t see much glory in Cooper’s eyes. Those around Kyle call him “legend” and “hero”, and he squirms. What kind of hero shoots women and children from 1000 yards out?

Anti War or Pro-War?

Like I’ve said earlier, Sniper walks a very fine line between a war film and an anti-war film. It presented a visceral imagery of the Iraq War, as well as clearly defining the sides of all parties. Eastwood showed not just the struggle these US soldiers faced at the field, but also the viewpoints of those trapped on the crosshairs.

American Sniper is a poignant observation of the terrors of war. While it is true that it centers heavily on Kyle, it can also be a reminder for us to take a step backward and think: Where does conflict lead?

In conclusion, Clint Eastwood has done a masterful job with American Sniper. It is a poignant take on the brief life of America’s most lethal sniper, and why his story deserves to be told.

Special thanks to Warner Bros Pictures Philippines for the invite. American Sniper is now showing at theaters everywhere.

Yuri Mangahas

Yuri is magnanimously juggling between two managerial jobs: A technical manager position for an advertising/copy-writing company, and an associate editorial position for a fashion and lifestyle magazine. Nevertheless, he still finds time taking photos and seeking for geek nirvana.


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