If there is one thing that we must all succumb to in this world, it has to be pop culture. This past weekend, I became a victim of the media created pop culture in America. The media pressured me to go see American Sniper because it was going to be the patriotic thing to do amidst the evolution of the war on terrorism. With the recent Charlie Hebdo massacres and ISIS continuing their invasion of Iraq and Syria, the timing of the release of the film couldn’t have come at a better time. We Americans demand copious amounts of propaganda to remind ourselves how we are the greatest nation in the world and American Sniper fit the bill.
As a veteran of the Iraq war, I admire the film for its realistic depiction. However as a veteran of the Iraq war, I did not agree with the film’s stance regarding PTSD and its depiction that war veterans are incapable of adjusting to civilian life.
Plot Summary (Spoiler Alert)
For the sake of brevity, which the film did not enjoy, we will streamline the plot enough so as not to leave the audience snoozing. If the merits of a film can be determined by the number of people in the theatre who are left unconscious, then American Sniper only allowed two people to pass out in my near vicinity. Out of about 200 people, those aren’t bad stats.
Chris Kyle, excellently played by Bradley Cooper, is an everyday Texas man who likes to hunt and do manly things. Kyle is unsuccessful in becoming a bull rider/cowboy and decides to become a Navy SEAL because that was the manly thing to do. He does so and endures the enlistment torture, to being on the ready for a mission and then getting married and having kids. The film delves into the difficulties of a military family from his wife Taya’s perspective a bit but ultimately makes her seem whiney and needy and not 100% accurate of the wife of a service member.
Chris Kyle is well on the path to becoming a walking, talking, American stud. The events of 9/11 led to his deployment to Iraq. Kyle became known as a legend for being such a stud and his main antagonist is an enemy sniper, Mustafa. Mustafa is a bad dude who was the Syrian Olympic champion of sniping. Chris Kyle snipes Mustafa with a risky shot that led to their position being compromised. Kyle is forced to call in an airstrike that fails miserably and they were eventually saved by their QRF (quick reaction force) and a well-timed sand storm.
Kyle gets tired of playing cowboys and Indians and decides that it’s time for him to be home with his family. Kyle finds it difficult in adjusting to civilian life and finds his niche through Veterans Affairs (VA) by helping other wounded veterans who have returned from war. Kyle is then murdered by a former service member that he was asked to help by the VA in what truly was the bitch move of the century.
The film superficially explores a lot of subjects including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Bradley Cooper is asked to play a very dynamic role and doesn’t do a bad job of it. Historical accuracies aside because we are talking about a Hollywood film, Cooper fits the part. The problem is that the cast surrounding him does not carry their own weight as well as he does. In fact, the only reason why this film was any good is because Cooper has to carry the rest of his peers. This ultimately may have more to do with the writers of the film than the actual actors, who were not offensive but utterly forgettable.
This detracts from the film being an all-time classic because in my opinion, all-time great films have well rounded casts. In my opinion, American Sniper more closely resembles Tom Hank’s Cast Away in that a singular actor/character dominates the film and no one else comes close with regards to character depth or development. Cast Away was also a good film but aside from Hanks being nominated for best actor, it did not garner much other critical acclaim.
The film is very good. In fact, it may go on to win numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture. However, as previously pointed out I am a veteran and by all accounts, a well-adjusted veteran to civilian life. The film does not introduce the topic of PTSD heavily until near the end when Chris Kyle is feeling pressured by his wife to call it a career. It previously pointed out the seriousness of PTSD when Kyle met his brother in Iraq, who was also a service member and was so traumatized that he openly confessed to Kyle that he hates this place (Iraq) and that he wants to go home. It is at this point that Kyle resumes being the killing machine that he is.
Chris Kyle ultimately does begin to suffer from PTSD himself while in sector and it begins to affect him at his core. After leaving the service, Kyle makes a very dramatic statement when interviewed by a VA counselor near the end of the film and says that he feels guilt and regret because he cannot be back in Iraq to save more soldiers. Kyle’s autobiography actually states that he feels guilt and regret because he couldn’t kill more Iraqi’s.
The film then goes on to show Chris Kyle aiding wounded soldiers in their transition to civilian life by taking them out to a firing range and generally just hanging out with his brothers in arms before alluding to his murder by another marine veteran for unknown reasons.
Aside from Bradley Cooper’s stellar performance as Chris Kyle and his forgettable supporting cast, the other reason why I am critical of this film is because of its lack of purpose. Unfortunately, I did zero research prior to watching the film and did not know that it was going to be an autobiography. Autobiographical works of any kind, by and large, lack a central premise because it is the detail of an individual’s life. What disappointed me is that the film tried to give itself a purposeful message regarding the difficulties of service members transitioning to civilian life, but did not expound on it earlier, more often, and make a declarative statement on the film’s position regarding PTSD.
Logical and reasonable deduction
As it stands, American Sniper is a commercial success because it brought the masses out on another freezing weekend in the Northeast. It is a critical success, garnering nominations at the Academy Awards for best picture and best actor for Bradley Cooper. However, one critical eye suggests that Philly’s very own Bradley Cooper is the new era of a mega movie star and without him in this film, there is no positive critical review. His supporting cast was so weak and Cooper strong enough to carry them, that one could imagine that Cooper should win the award for best supporting actor as well.
The film does beg a question from a fellow veteran. When will there be a film that introduces the prospect that not all service members return from war and allow PTSD to control their lives? Some of us are able to become society’s wizards after being their warrior.