American Sniper

Like many, I have read about the effect American Sniper has had on people – on one side, the “right-wing”, “U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!!” mob, who I have no doubt felt their juices flowing throughout as the Arabs were pounded into oblivion (it’s that kind of film); on the other side, the “left wing” contingent who thinks it’s irresponsible to provoke more backlash against Arabs by portraying them as “evil” and absent of any humanity and complexity in a movie about, of all things, the complex effects of war.

I wondered if, maybe, it was just that Clint Eastwood had inadvertently given the haters material to work with. After all, he can’t be responsible for how people perceive his work. Years ago, a film called The Siege caused uproar and was riddled with accusations of racism. While I don’t think the movie does much to dispel the “Arabs must be feared” trope we so often see, it tries to. It actually does have a point (even though by the time the film gets to it, you probably don’t care).

And this is the thing about American Sniper – by the end of the film, you are asked to feel very deeply about the loss of every American life, but you are not given any reason to care about the people on the other end of the conflict.

It’s completely one-sided. There is a total absence of humanity on the part of the Iraqis. There are glimpses – very brief moments – where Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle is clearly torn, feeling remorse or something, because he frowns and looks sad. He’s got feelings, at least. But you can’t actually watch this movie and care about the Iraqis, so it seems a flimsy attempt to suggest war has a cost on the mind and soul.

Seriously. It was like a video game. Pew! Pew! Killing the dirty, dark, sinister Arabs.

They were constantly referred to as savages, motherf***ers, and evil, and very little was done to address this hatred, this easy dismissal of anyone who wasn’t an American. There was zero insight into who the Iraqis were, and how they perceived the invasion by American soldiers. The Iraqi sniper whom Chris is determined to snuff out doesn’t even speak. He is portrayed simply and purely as a dark shadow of evil. Not even his personal history as an Olympic champion works in his favour. It seems almost like a nod to “what might have been”. Eastwood is saying, “See? This guy should have stuck to sports.”

However, we are offered the soldiers’ perspectives. The movie is drenched in the sadness and fear and the momentary gungho “f**k yeahs!” you often see in military movies.

Bradley Cooper says that it was meant to be a study of the soldier and the cost of war on them and their families. You certainly get that, and you’re allowed to feel for these angry, aggressive, hate-filled men hating their time in the Middle East where “the dirt tastes like dog s**t”.

Yep. Even the Middle Eastern dirt tastes bad.