Movie Review: American Sniper
By Matthew Huntley
Unfortunately, Chris’s experience doesn’t come across as all that compelling, at least not in the form of American Sniper. Perhaps it would have at one point in time, but after Hollywood has given us so many war dramas, this one doesn’t approach its subject from an interesting enough angle to make us think we’re watching anything new and different. We care for and sympathize with Chris, to be sure, but this seems inevitable given how likable and respectful a man he was. It helps that Bradley Cooper, who continues to show his range as an actor, is so likable himself.
The film mostly goes through the motions of the genre and we watch, scene after scene, as the SEALs monitor various cities in Iraq as marines hunt for members of al-Qaeda, particularly Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (one of the founders of Iraq’s al-Qaeda faction) and his second-in-command, whose torture practices earn him the moniker “The Butcher.” All the while, the U.S. soldiers are attacked by locals and/or shot at by an insurgent sniper, whom the film views as Chris’ counterpart on the Iraqi side.
With these “evil” characters in place, the movie can’t help but subscribe to action movie conventions and subsequently glorify war. For instance, we see the enemy sharpshooter assemble his rifle similar to how Arnold Schwarzenegger prepared for battle in “Commando,” and then tie his headband like Sylvester Stallone did in “Rambo.” We also get a CGI version of Chris’s final, crucial bullet as it flies through the air in slow motion, followed by him outrunning a sandstorm to catch up with his convoy in just the nick of time before bombs start going off.
Other familiar devices are tossed in that primarily function as emotional button pushers, including the young, distracted soldier who talks about marrying his girl back home; or the men enduring PTSD, unable to escape the sights and sounds of combat when they return home.
These criticisms aren’t meant to undermine Chris’ or any other soldiers’ service, and I do believe the movie’s details are characteristic of real-life war conditions. But they are also characteristic of traditional war movies, and so American Sniper doesn’t stand out as something we really haven’t seen before, and because it chooses to play its perspective safe and straightforward, rather than complex and polemical, it doesn’t exactly rile us up intellectually.
I’ve no doubt Chris Kyle and every other soldier’s military story is unique and emotionally gripping in its own way. American Sniper illustrates this during its closing credits, when it shows us archival footage of Chris’ funeral and the numerous dedications he received around Texas. Unfortunately, everything before it feels all too standard. Chris’s story has been told, yes, but not in a very interesting or absorbing way.