War! What is it good for? A record breaking $105 million January opening weekend, that’s what. And a debate that rages on over whether director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall’s American Sniper is a Republican polemic of “God, America, Country“; or a “Coming Home“-redux, surprisingly according to one-time “Hanoi-Jane” Fonda. When the truth becomes legend, it seems Eastwood favours “Cut. Print. Legend.”
There have been many excellent reviews and think pieces addressing both the quality of the film-making itself, including the excellent performance of star Bradley Cooper as real life Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, with a strong turn from Sienna Miller as his wife Taya, and the moral quandaries within its frame. But what it ultimately comes down to for me is this: Eastwood and the screenwriter Jason Hall want to both have their cake and eat it. Kyle describes the Iraqi woman handing the grenade to the kid as the most evil thing he ever saw – but in reality he never killed a child in that episode, only the woman about to throw a grenade herself. At first I thought Kyle’s own death was merely a footnote because of possible legal issues ( as far as I recall, the disturbed ex-Marine killer is still awaiting trial), but Hall has stated he didn’t want Kyle’s son to grow up and see a film “where his dad gets his head blown off.” But he’s fine with manufacturing an incident showing his father killing a child? And of course in reality Kyle never even actually engaged the Syrian sniper picking off his “flock”. Originally attached director Steven Spielberg amped up that aspect before withdrawing, citing that he couldn’t expand the two-sided story on the available budget. Eastwood chooses to keep him as a black-clad, wordless evil-doer, whose Olympic level shooting is tested by Kyle’s “real world” skill.
If Eastwood and Hall want to make a thriller with a touch of psychodrama PTSD, fine, but don’t disingenuously pass this off as a true story. If you had any doubts about the “my country, right or wrong” stance of this film, the mournful music and real life funeral scenes at the end hammer it home. I find the moral equivocation and lack of debate about the causes or necessity of the war troubling – a war predicated on a lie, enacted by unquestioning patriots. Is Kyle both sheepdog AND sheep?