10 years in the making

American Sniper | ArtHouse Crouch End

Clint Eastwood says his highly controversial film American Sniper is about the effects of war on those who fight it, but it looks much more like a straightforward battle between good and evil.
Chris Kyle was a sniper in the elite Navy SEALS, a man with a ‘kill count’ of between160 and 250 and whose autobiography, on which the film is based, tells of his love for war and killing, and his hatred for the ‘savages’ he kills. Clint Eastwood rewrites him as a good guy, a reluctant hero motivated only by his love of God, country and family. Well to be honest, he hasn’t been rewritten that much, just given some emotional time with his wife and children and a conscience – he doesn’t actually verbalise his conscience but it’s faintly observable in his eyes. He still has no doubts about his mission to kill; from snipers to jewellers, they’re all the enemy to him and that’s how the film portrays them. They do unspeakable things with drills, show no mercy to children, and they keep severed heads on a shelf in their hideout. It’s a one dimensional battle between good and evil that has all the subtlety of a cheap video game.
In the end that makes it a less than gripping action movie, despite all the tense shoot-outs and some interesting use of rifle sights that bring you closer to the fighting, but also somehow distance you from it. Any moral ambiguities that are raised by other soldiers or their families are quickly faded out. Kyle’s wife, played by Sienna Miller, has no real character of her own; her role is entirely about getting her man to come home.
That’s all enough to ensure it’s not a great film but what makes it an objectionable one is that the battle between good and evil is set in the catastrophic and contentious Iraq war. In this context, whatever Eastwood’s intentions, American flag waving looks disturbingly like American propaganda, and simplistic ideologies about right and wrong look dangerous.