Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper arrives in Australian cinemas after being nominated for six oscars, including best picture and best actor. The film has debuted at number one in the American box-office and is Eastwood’s most successful film to date. Not bad for a director who will celebrate 85 years of age in May.
Eastwood a Republican in his Political leanings, has made films in his later years that demonstrate a more liberal approach to his subject matter. His two war films Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, though sympathetic to the plight of the ordinary soldier, were more critical in the exploration of the politicians and beurocrats who led these young men to war. His latest, American Sniper is less Flags/Letters, more Heartbreak Ridge/Dirty Harry in tone, he adapts the autobiography of Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal who has been credited by the American Navy with more kills as a sniper than any other American Service member, past or present. Officially 160 kills.
The film like the book opens up as Kyle spots a woman and young boy step outside and start walking down the road of an Iraqi town. The Marines were moving forward, “marching north to liberate the country from Saddam Hussein,” Klye writes. A shot rings out is, yet this time it is a young Chris shooting his first deer. “That’s a hell of a shot son, you’ve got a gift,” his proud father declares. His father is full of these simple proclamations, declaring that the world is made up of three types of people, the sheep, the wolves and the sheep dogs. Chris is a rare breed, blessed with the gift of aggression, the need to protect the flock. He is a sheep dog, put on the earth to protect the weak from the evil oppressor. I’m assuming the rest of us, not in the military are the sheep. And the Iraqis are obviously the wolves, the bullies.
After a terrorist attack on a US embassy, Kyle is motivated to volunteer. At thirty he chooses the Navy SEALS and after some rigorous training is soon deployed to Iraq for 4 tours of duty. During his SEAL training he meets his future wife, Taya (Sienna Miller) in a bar, “Your’e a bunch of arrogant self-centered pricks who do what you want,” she tells him. His response, “why do you think i’m self-centred I’d lay down my life for my Country.”
In his own words, Chris is a “regular redneck.” and Cooper captures the mans physicality and simple morality in his performance. Kyle by his own admission was black and white and Cooper, Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall are careful not to imbue the character with too much psychological depth. However this also restricts the film from being more than a simplistic celebration of a soldier who is proficient at killing these “savages”. The complexities of the conflict are overshadowed of a litany of “Hooya” moments.