Is “American Sniper” an Anti-War Movie?

Ideas and Issues

fb_shareNew Orleans   The papers are buzzing about the surprising opening weekend success of Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, “American Sniper,” starring Bradley Cooper, who was also nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.Hollywood is scratching its head as if they had found a new audience in the South and the West for war movies.  Quelle shock!

According to the Wall Street Journal eight of the top ten markets for the movie were in the South or Midwest including San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, Nashville, and Albuquerque.  The movie did $105.3 million in business in the US and Canada over the four-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend.  “Sniper” enjoyed the “largest opening ever for a drama or R-rated film and more than doubled the prior record for Martin Luther King Day weekend.”

So what’s up?  Was this just a situation where the yahoos, vets, and necks drove the box office in a red meat, blood curdling frenzy?

We went to see the movie in Chalmette, a working class community downriver from New Orleans, and the theater was packed for a Sunday night flick with most in the audience probably not having a day off for King Day.  The movie was riveting, action-packed, and well-acted.  There was no applause, but virtually no one left their seats until after the credits ran showing real life footage with pictures of Chris Kyle and his wife and the funeral cortege traveling the Dallas interstate and passing crowds of people on the way to a military funeral in Texas Stadium in Arlington, home of the NFL Dallas Cowboys.

Is this the kind of response to the film that should worry progressives and lead them to ask questions about how bloodthirsty we are becoming as a country? My answer would be “no.”

“Sniper” is a movie without any real vocal or visible politics.  In fact one of Kyle’s team questions whether the war is worth it and whether or not we should be in Iraq during their 2nd or 3rd tour together, and dies later.  His own brother leaves him head scratching when he runs into him on his 4th tour expressing plainly his disgust for the war in four letter terms.  For Kyle, reportedly American’s deadliest sniper ever with almost 200 confirmed kills, this is his “job” and his patriotic responsibility to his country, but even more so the movie is clear that it’s personal and about protecting his fellow soldiers and community.  In the movie’s metaphor he’s the “sheepdog” protecting the sheep. The movie makes it obvious the soldiers are untrained and unprepared for this war and clueless and trusting about any big picture. War is hell here, and any viewer can’t mistake that it is blind luck and fickle fortune that allows any of the soldiers to live from day to day, including Kyle, despite his SEAL training and marksmanship.

To the degree that veterans are flocking to the movie and giving it thumbs up as they leave and saying that Eastwood “got it right” in his depictions of Iraq and the war, any sober minded viewer can only conclude that this may be one of the more powerful anti-war movies ever made.  The toll on the battlefield is no more intense than the adjustment on the home front.  The struggle in the field is almost less than the fight later in the VA hospitals.

The moral of the movie seems to me: it’s all right for all of us to love America, but war is crazy, deadly, and permanently wounding.