Boy, am I treading troubled waters with this one. This is the first Best Picture nominee I am writing and of course it has to be the most controversial one. This is what I get for reviewing the Best Picture Nominees in alphabetical order. To say this film has public opinion split down the middle would be an understatement. If anything, this film has public opinion split four ways. 1st group appraise it as a stunning portrayal of an American Hero. 2nd group saw it as a tragic tale of a soldier’s inability to adjust to life outside of war. 3rd group condemns the film as islamophobic propaganda celebrating a murderer. 4th group regard it as “meh”. This review is going to hurt.
You probably know about Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a real life Navy SEAL with 160 confirmed sniper kills in Iraq who ended up being killed by a veteran he was helping. Though the film goes through his whole life, it focuses on two particular moments of his life. Half of the film focuses on a battle between him and a master sniper in Iraq. Another key aspect of his moments back home, where he has trouble adjusting to life outside of war.
I noticed in this film shares common themes with Director Clint Eastwood’s other films. The first is the reluctant hero. Like the soldiers in Flags for Our Fathers, Kyle has the label of hero forced upon him when he only sees himself as just a professional doing his job. It certainly reigns true in one scene where a soldier praises the hell out of Kyle right in front of his son. You can just feel the awkwardness Kyle is going through at that moment. The second theme is a man out of place with the rest of the world. This includes Eastwood’s own roles in Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino, which features veterans in their profession out of touch with a changing world. In this film, Kyle has been made out of touch.
At first, he seems to fit right in to the classic American images of church rodeos and bars. And he certainly proves himself as a Navy Seal in a training montage. But once he returns from war, he finds himself out of touch with suburban life. He is unable to think of anything but the war, even when just going for a drive. On top of that, he has trouble control his temper. In one intense scene, he comes close to beating a dog with a belt after mistaking it’s playing with an attack, much to the horror of his family. The scenes of him trying to adjust to life at home are the strongest scenes in the film.
However, there are a lot of problems with this film. In the film, Chris Kyle comes off an unpleasant, self-righteous jerk I wouldn’t want to be near. Even before the war, he comes off as violent and a bit of a dick to women. It’s only in scenes of him attempting to cope with suburban life that I can sympathize with him. And then there’s the unintentionally hilarious scene of Cooper trying to hold a doll like a baby? You can’t fool us with that bad CGI hand. It’s obviously a doll. And ending the film not showing us the death comes off as cheating. If you did it for the kids, why even bring it up in the first place?
The worst is the fact it doesn’t address the moral ambiguity of the war, notably the fact that they invaded a country that never attacked them in the first place because lie about WMDs. Kyle believes he’s a sheepdog defending the sheep(Americans) from the wolves(Iraqis), and boy does these scene seem to share the same view. As a result, the war scenes come off as borderline-propaganda and islamophobic. I suspect Eastwood was trying to present the world from Kyle’s point of view. But his point of view comes off as pretty shallow. Not helping matters is his memoirs, where he refers to Iraqis people as “savages” and admits that he enjoys killing. Eastwood and writer Jason Hall try to distance themselves from those comments, but they still linger.
What is so strange about all of this is the fact Eastwood has spoken out against the war. And he is not a director who does propaganda. Quite the contrary, his films outright question the idea of the white hatted American Hero. In Unforgiven, he demyths the heroic gunslinger by showing the ugliness of dying from a gunshot wound. In Flags for Our Fathers, he portrayed the soldiers in the flag raising photo as average Joes reluctantly labeled as heroes and exploited for recruitment purposes. He even portrayed the Japanese soldiers during World War Two in a dignified and sympathetic light in Letter of Iwo Jima. You’d think he would address the gray area behind this.
American Sniper comes off as one major “Huh?” I really don’t know what to make of this movie. The scene after the war are well performed, but I can’t enjoy the war scenes because it was an immoral war to begin with. I cannot take either extreme side. What is for certain is that I don’t think this film deserves to be nominated for Best Picture. Is it really better than Nightcrawler, Gone Girl or Interstellar. Is Bradley Cooper really better than Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler or David Oyelowo in Stella? The only rewards it really deserves is the technical nomiations, especially sound editing and sound mixing. It has strong qualities, but it’s too mediocre to me.
 To be honest, if the film wasn’t nominated for any of the major awards, I most likely wouldn’t have watched it. Just seems so plain. But now that it’s nominated, I make it my mission to see the movie. As a movie reviewer, I filter all of the controversy and the opinions in order to keep an open mind.