Clint Eastwood is a Hollywood legend. He has starred in and also directed some truly beautiful classics. This makes his latest film all the more disappointing. American Sniper feels more like a movie-length recruitment video than an actual piece of cinema. Everything in the story culminates to a resounding “America, f**k yeah”. But the worst thing about it is how it uses old xenophobic fears to position the audience to, yet again, view Islam and Muslims as “savages”.
The movie is based on the autobiography of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper), a man who singlehandedly killed over 160 people. We follow Kyle’s life from a young boy in a strict Texan household, all the way through his three tours in Iraq, and his return to the States. We see how his life was heavily shaped by these tours. There are instances where we can see the internal conflict that comes with serving in combat, yet these are never elaborated on. What we see mostly is the justification of war.
This is what makes American Sniper so dangerous. It glorifies killing by using war as an excuse. Yes, war means death, and soldiers are forced to make tough life-changing decisions in an instant. American Sniper takes a story that could’ve been about the effects of war on an individual and creates a sort of propaganda that ultimately demonises an entire religion. And it does this in such a heavy-handed way.
Throughout the movie we are shown the horrible ways Muslims will sacrifice men, women and children in order to stop the US forces. And we see Kyle stopping them i.e. killing them. We are led to believe Kyle was only doing his job and that he was saving his fellow soldiers. But there are no grey areas here, being Muslim equates to being a terrorists, while Kyle and the US forces are heroes. It is not a homage to Kyle and the fighting men and women, but rather a celebration and justification of war. The movie seems to be a personification of “the end justifies the means”.
America is currently going through some volatile internal conflicts. Race relations are very unstable partly due to the many minority deaths at the hands of the police e.g. the Ferguson case. American Sniper seems to be drawing the attention away from these important issues and redirecting them to an old recognisable ‘common enemy’: Muslims. To see the terrifying effects this movie has on real people we need only look at social media.
American Sniper is up for six Academy Awards, including two of the most important: Best Actor and Best Picture. It doesn’t deserve any. Not because it wasn’t well made; Eastwood did not let us down in the technical aspects, and Cooper does a decent job in playing this character. It doesn’t deserve any praise because it is a movie that manipulates and cashes in on American fears and insecurities. And by doing so it is holding America back.