The American Sniper roundtable

—By Michael Bamford, Zehra Madhavan, & Hannah Mitlak—

Based on American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History and directed by the acclaimed Clint Eastwood, American Sniper follows Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper during the Iraq War.  Bradley Cooper takes on the role of the deadliest marksmen in American military history, portraying everything from Kyle’s enlistment to his return home and his relationship with his family over his multiple tours.  Here are our thoughts on the film, which recently received an Oscar nomination in the Best Picture category:

A totally awesome action flick

There’s a reason why American Sniper made over 90 million dollars on opening weekend, partially because the movie is extremely patriotic at a time when everyone in America is feeling a patriotic kick—thanks to The Interview—but mainly because the movie is just plain amazing.

Bradley Cooper’s so skillfully portrays Chris Kyle that the viewer comes to feel as if he knew Kyle personally.  As I saw him undergo these emotionally tortuous situations, like almost having to shoot a child, I empathized with him.  And even though I will most likely never be placed in a situation similar to his, after the film ended I was an emotional wreck.

As you might assume from the title, the sniper scenes are the highlights of the movie.  Not to undervalue the acting, which happens to be enthralling, but the sniper scenes steal the show.  They are more powerful than the ones from your classic, shoot-em-up Clint Eastwood movies; his reflective dialogue before some shots tear at your heart, which makes you want to yell at Kyle, to tell him to shoot or to avoid firing.

American Sniper is easily one of my top ten favorite action movies, and it made me feel almost as patriotic as when Donny and Eli shot Hitler’s face until it looked like Swiss cheese in Inglorious Basterds. –Michael Bamford

Propaganda disguised as patriotism

If you don’t question war, this is the movie for you.  If you were raised thinking of violence as a necessity, this is the movie for you.

The most dangerous part of American Sniper is not the violence it portrays, but rather the message it propagates.  More than once Kyle refers to the victims of his AK-47 as “savages,” not only clearly being insensitive to the fallen Iraqis, but also glorifying the cause of the Iraq War.

Most politicians, at this point, would admit the US neither had enough information nor a solid enough justification to go to war in Iraq.  This movie seems to rewrite that story. Eastwood glorifies Kyle for killing as many as he did, and the Iraqi population, including women and children, are cast as violent monsters.

The movie calls into question the humanity of the Iraqis, while managing to give just enough of Kyle’s to save face.  Perhaps a better version of this film would focus more on Kyle’s apparent but scarcely discussed PTSD.  Without this, the violence committed appears totally normal and without consequence, which is just another of the film’s flaws. –Hannah Mitlak

Redeemed by acting and visuals

American Sniper is nearly a typical action-hero biopic with repetitive action sequences, but for me, what pulls it out of that realm is undoubtedly the acting.

Bradley Cooper portrays Chris Kyle with powerful yet understated emotion, addressing Kyle’s depth and complexity with finesse.  Cooper’s delivery and expressions give great insight into Kyle’s character, making Kyle’s inner struggles more accessible and making the movie more absorbing overall.

It is fascinating to witness Kyle’s wavering mental strength, which becomes particularly apparent through Cooper’s acting in emotional scenes between Kyle and his wife Taya Renae, played by Sienna Miller.  The role of Chris Kyle is a tricky one, and Cooper delivers, earning him a deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor.  Miller is also impressive; her performance in emotionally-fraught scenes is believable and riveting.

Other redeeming qualities are the film’s visuals and cinematography.  Scenes in the war zone are depicted through unique aerial and angled shots, which add suspense and intensity, and sequences picturing sandstorms and explosions visually stunning. –Zehra Madhavan

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