It’s much more than that.
Many critics of Clint Eastwood’s latest and most recently polarizing film, American Sniper, say one of three things. You have the critics who enjoy the film as a nuanced retelling of a recent war story, using the tone of Saving Private Ryan.
You have other critics who chastise the movie for not saying “enough.” That is, it’s neither pro-military, pro-the war in Iraq, or the anti of either of those things.
And then you have the critics who despise the true story of Chris Kyle, claiming he was a sociopathic war criminal.
But American Sniper is none of those things, even that thing about Saving Private Ryan.
American Sniper is a biopic about the life of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. History. He accrued over 150 kills during his four tours to Iraq as a SEAL, and he’s the co-author of his own memoir, also titled American Sniper.
Now, below is a major spoiler, so you’ve been warned.
But it’s almost impossible to talk about this movie without bringing it up. If you’re still wondering if you should see American Sniper, here’s my short answer: yes.
Not because it’s necessarily the best movie you could be watching in theaters right now, or even because I think you’d like it. I think everyone, critics and fans alike, should know about this story and yes, this movie.
For those of you who are not aware, Chris Kyle was murdered in February of 2013, leaving behind a wife and two children. His story is incredibly sad, whether you demonize him or not, but that’s not the driving point of the movie itself.
Which brings me back to my main point. American Sniper is not some sort of army recruitment video. It’s not pro-war, or pro-military, and I would even argue it doesn’t try to be pro-America (even though it sort of does that by default.)
It’s pro-Chris Kyle, and in this case, that’s a good thing.
The movie presents Kyle as a flawed man, to be certain. The first 20 minutes are almost identical to Unbroken, the true story of Lou Zamperini. There’s even the same Church scene followed by a bully scene, and so on.
And a lot of these scenes of his early life frankly paint him as a bit of a jerk.
But he evolves and changes as he serves in the military and becomes known as a “legend” of a sharpshooter. This is where critics swoop in with the whole “pro-military and war" thing. They argue that, according to this film, Chris Kyle's time in Iraq was ultimately best for him, which would by default lead a moviegoer into believing the same might be true for them.
Yet this critique disregards the full context of Chris Kyle’s life as portrayed by Bradley Cooper. War changed him in a lot of good and bad ways. That’s just the reality.
Ultimately, he’s redeemed, but it’s not from some vague appreciation of military service. The film shows us that it was his choice to come back home and be with his family.
That doesn’t fix all of his problems, to be certain. He still struggles with the PTSD of war, made evident by the film’s third act. But the movie doesn’t dwell on this like some critics wish it did. Instead, it ends as abruptly as reality dictated. In the middle of his life.
Look, the bottom line is that American Sniper is what I wished The Hurt Locker could have been: a fair look at what war does to everyday people.
It’s not a perfect movie, but the set pieces are stunning, Bradley Cooper’s acting is at its highest level, and in the end, the memory of an American hero is honored.
You might argue with me on that point, but the fact is that Chris Kyle saved a lot of lives. That may not cover up any wrongs he did (presented in this movie or ignored), but it is a fact. And even if you don’t believe that the real man was worth celebrating, you should still pay attention to how those around him do.