Making its North American debut just two weeks ago, American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, is already ranked as the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. On the popular movie review website “Rotten Tomatoes,” the film was approved by 73% of critics and 88% of all movie viewers. The film was projected to gross over $250 million dollars by the end of January and has been nominated for 6 Oscars, including “Best Picture.”
Yet, despite this apparent success, many critics still debate whether the film is really an accurate representation of America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The film tells the true story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who was sent to Iraq after 9/11 as a sharpshooter, with a mission to protect his fellow soldiers. Aptly nicknamed “The Legend,” Kyle is credited with at least 160 confirmed kills and has saved countless American lives on the battlefield.
In the movie, Kyle is enlisted to hunt Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a leader of the Al-Qaeda Islamic terrorist organization that attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Yet American Sniper explores Chris Kyle the man, not just the soldier. It reveals not only Kyle’s journey through his missions, but also the psychological toll of the war upon his return home after 4 tours of duty. The film attempts to portray the post-traumatic stress syndrome suffered by Chris Kyle and countless other war veterans.
Some viewers will surely appreciate American Sniper as a compelling story of an ordinary Texan who had no interest in politics, but only wanted to serve his country. A writer for the urban policy magazine City Journal Michael Totten, stated in a piece entitled “The Truth About American Sniper” that the film was “a blisteringly accurate portrayal of the American war in Iraq.”
According to Totten, Director Clint Eastwood was able to avoid the status quo of the genre and step aside from politics in order to focus on the actual individual. Many other members of the audience have even felt a renewed sense of Patriotism. So why is American Sniper so controversial?
To some of its critics, American Sniper does not do enough to show our regret for invading Iraq when, in the end, there was never any proven relationship between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. They feel that this is a pro-war film that encourages somewhat anti-Iraqi sentiment. Americans are not the only ones who feel that these allegations were conveyed in the film.
Liz Sly for the Washington Post wrote, “After just a handful of sometimes rowdy screenings, the film has been pulled from Baghdad’s only movie theater amid complaints from the Iraqi government — as well as viewers — that it ‘insults’ Iraqis.” Some critics have even argued that snipers are cowards who should not be glorified, as they shoot their victims in the back.
“Those who say that [Kyle] is a ruthless killer are being ridiculous because he was just trying to protect his family and his country,” said junior Mike Hitselberger.
Ironically, it may just be this controversy and all of the related press that is resulting in the popularity of American Sniper. But more than just a story about Chris Kyle, more than just a war story, and more than a historical drama, American Sniper hits a nerve or with regard to issues from gun control to the “war on terror” to the mental illnesses that afflict the soldiers who return home.
“It’s crazy to think about the effects of war on our troops,”said junior Lyndsey McLamb. “Soldiers come home and still want to go back [the the warzone] because they aren’t able to readjust, and they feel like they aren’t saving lives.”
Former Marine Eddie Ray Routh, a PTSD victim who allegedly shot and killed Kyle and friend Chad Littlefield in 2013, is set to face trial on Feb. 11. Routh’s attorney, J. Warren St. John, maintains that the recent film on Kyle’s life created a publicity storm, drawing national attention that will affect the court’s ability to pick a jury to hear Routh’s case.
Whether or not “American Sniper” is a manifestation of violent sacriliege or patriotic devotion is up for debate. Regardless, the film has certainly struck a chord with viewers nationwide, prompting Americans to consider the true price of freedom and justice.