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The Controversy of American Sniper

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After American Sniper’s success at the Academy Awards, Rebecca Teahan discusses the controversy surrounding Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster and the real-life marine, Chris Kyle. 

In a decision which took jurors less than two hours to make, Eddie Ray Routh, 27, was convicted of shooting Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield multiple times, resulting in their deaths. The former Marine was suffering from PTSD, and Kyle and Littlefield were trying to help him deal with it. Whether or not the guilty verdict was influenced by Chris Kyle’s legendary status, and immortalisation in an Academy Award nominated Hollywood blockbuster, is debatable, but perhaps now a moot point.

This blockbuster, of course, is American Sniper, a film which has been causing a stir, not only among film critics, but throughout the whole of America and beyond. Its huge success, having raked in over $110 million in four weeks, is no doubt is partly thanks to the hype caused by the controversy surrounding it. Bradley Cooper puts on 40lbs to play the Navy Seal who becomes the deadliest sniper in American history, racking up at least 160 confirmed kills in the controversial invasion of Iraq post 9/11, in four tours of duty, meaning the film’s topic is inescapably provocative.

Image Credit: theblaze.com
Image Credit: theblaze.com

Blasted as war-mongering, anti-Islamic propaganda by some, others argue that to criticize the film is an insult to the memory of all the men and women who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those who are still fighting ‘to protect the liberties of the Western World’.

The film has drawn comment from famous faces such as Michael Moore, who called snipers ‘cowards’ and Seth Rogen, who said the film reminded him of the propaganda film in Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Basterds’.  It has also been more widely criticised as likely to spread anti-Islamic hatred, due to its undebatable negative portrayal of Muslims.

It’s hard to pin down exactly what the film is trying to promote. While on the surface, American Sniper may seem like a film which would be appreciated by a certain type of people, it actually has a number of layers to it that make it quite a thought provoking watch.

The film is based on Kyle’s memoirs, yet does not always glorify him. In fact, at many points it is quite the opposite. Kyle’s family struggle with his absence, and Kyle himself struggles to re-adjust to home life. His motivation for going on the four tours is a personal mission to kill the rival sniper who has killed several of his comrades. He is shown as being uncomfortable when approached by a man whose life he saved, who tells Kyle’s young son that his father is a hero. His brother, who is shown to live in the shadow of his legendary older brother, also signs up, but he seems to suffer a much more soul-destroying, traumatic experience than Chris. A number of Kyle’s comrades are either killed or severely injured, and there is a definite sense that the war was ultimately damaging to all involved. This culminates in the death of Kyle himself, who is killed at a shooting range in Texas by a veteran with PTSD. The film ends with actual footage of the funeral procession of Chris Kyle, in which his body proceeds with a full motorcade escort through the streets, lined with mourners waving American flags, heading to a memorial service held in a huge football stadium. This ending does glorify Kyle as a hero, but really, honouring the man whose life this film is based on is not a surprising addition or ending.

Image Credit: YouTube
Image Credit: YouTube

The action sequences are no doubt why the film won an achievement award in Sound Editing. There are horrific scenes at times, which are only a microcosm of the real horrors experienced during the war. While some may see it as a testament to what American men and women endured in the ‘War Against Terror’, for those perhaps less immediately involved it calls into question if it was all worth it. However, to see it as pure propaganda is a rather shallow viewing. Yes, it does make a man who is said to have killed over 250 people its hero, but that does not automatically mean that it also makes his all actions heroic. The many layers to the films, which often shift and contradict each other, make it impossible to pigeonhole as entirely pro-war or anti-war. That is perhaps the most simplified, balanced bottom line – American Sniper shows good men fighting a bad war. Therefore it is almost limitlessly controversial – are they good men? Was it a bad war?

When a film raises so many questions, there are always multiple answers, which is probably the real reason that Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper divides opinions, especially in a country as divided as America, about a topic so divisive as the Iraq War.

Rebecca Teahan

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