American Sniper (2014)

Two reviews of Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, one from Fr. Scott Archer, one from blogger Iris Hanlin.

"Well-acted and well-directed", Fr. Scott Archer

I was not certain what to expect when I went see American Sniper (2014, R), a movie directed by Clint Eastwood about the wartime experiences and family life of Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal and sniper. From a critical perspective, this movie presents two difficulties: it was an immediate box office success yet it seems to have divided theatergoers along ideological lines. My primary concern, here, is to look past both of these extrinsic aspects and determine if it works as a story and a movie. Not all box office successes—and this certainly qualifies as one—are necessarily good movies, and ideologies alone certainly do not make for a good story. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see a well-acted and well-directed movie about how war affects those who fight, specifically Chris Kyle. Had it not been for the acting skills of Bradley Cooper, who brings the emotional strength needed for the lead, this movie could have gone downhill rather quickly into just another war movie. He was made for this part; in fact, Cooper obviously worked very hard to make himself look physically more like Chris Kyle.

The story begins in Iraq, with a flashback to his childhood. The rest of the movie progresses through his time in Iraq as well as his time at home. It is a riveting story and will move most to admire the sacrifices made by so many for the sake of their country. American Sniper effectively illustrates these sacrifices both on and off the battlefield—sacrifices made by soldiers as well as their loved ones. This movie could have fallen into the trap of intentionally manipulating our emotions, but it lets the story unfold in a dignified manner. The end will leave you speechless but also appreciative of the sacrifices he made.

It is a war movie, so there's a ton a profanity. Just a head's up.

Two tiaras. (Fr. Scott's reviews and more can be found at Catholic Faith in Light of Tradition)

"Exceptional....but extremely  bloody" by Iris Hanlin

Last Sunday evening after Mass, I made the snap decision to catch the late show of Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, the true story of Chris Kyle, a U.S. Navy SEAL and the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. He is called a legend. His job was to combat evil. He has over 160 confirmed enemy kills to his name and had served four tours in Iraq. At one time, he was the most wanted man in the Middle East. It was difficult work, what he did, but it's what needs to be done at times, and no one did it better than Chris Kyle.

Based on Kyle's autobiography, American Sniper opens on a city devastated by the Iraq war, a place that has become the temporary home of American troops, and Kyle (Bradley Cooper) far from home, behind the sight of his sandy-colored Mk 12 Special Purpose Rifle with a pocket-sized New Testament by his side.

Chris Kyle knows his duty in life - to serve God, country, and family - and he is dedicated to a fault, the fault being that he finds it difficult to go home. He already feels at home in the desert with his finger on a trigger.

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in soldiers often remains invisible and/or ignored, and such was the case with Kyle for a while. He would sit and stare at a blank television screen as sounds of gunfire and military choppers echoed in his head. Once he came close to beating the family dog because he was convinced it was attacking his son when it was really just licking the boy's face. He felt empty and useless, that Americans were dying needlessly when he wasn't in Iraq to protect them.

American Sniper is an excellent film with an exceptional cast and talent. It was extremely bloody (there is even a brief scene of a little boy being tortured and eventually killed, although it is easily avoidable because of the setup) and full of colorful language (read: lots and lots of f-bombs), but if you can look past that and see the big picture, you'll see a story of a true heroism and sacrifice, a man who took into his own hands the tremendous and unimaginable task of taking lives in order to save others. It also brilliantly illustrates the true horror of battle - the choices that must be made, the images and sounds our soldiers will probably never get out of their head, and the war that continues when they return home as they try to reacquaint themselves with a "normal life," and that is why I am willing to forgive the goriness and the language for this film. It's how it really was. In reality, it was probably even worse that what we see in this movie. "I've never seen such evil," he said to a comrade as they tried to unwind in the barracks. "A woman gives a grenade to her kid and sends him to go kill Marines." It's hard to believe things like that could actually happen. But they did.

There was hope for Kyle, though, and there is hope for veterans struggling with PTSD and other repercussions of their time in war. Eventually, a counselor told Kyle that he could help and protect soldiers without being in the battlefield, and thus began his work with veterans.

I've read a few things about this film - other reviews, some complaints - and I've read that some believe it's a film to glorify war. That it definitely is not. It shows the nitty gritty, difficult and harsh truth about war - that it's a necessary evil sometimes.

Beyond the profanity, I should also mention that there are a few scenes of sexual immorality. We see a moment of Kyle's former girlfriend cheating on him with another man, and Kyle and his future wife (then-girlfriend), Taya, sleep together before marriage. Unnecessary. Unfortunate. Be aware of that.

In conclusion, while this is definitely a violent film (at times sadistically), it's one I think worth watching. It's one about a man who is willing to do what needs to be done to protect his country no matter the cost, but it's also about dealing with the cost once the physical war has ended.

If I didn't have to rate movies while considering violence and language, I would give American Sniper a solid 3; buuuuuut, reluctantly factoring in said violence and sex and language, I rate it at 1.5 out of 3 tiaras; it would have been more if not for the profanity and sexual immorality. (Iris blogs at The Starving Inspired)