‘American Sniper’ opens amid controversy

Emma Finkbeiner

Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers.

On a Sunday evening, I expect to sit in a quiet, sparsely-filled theater to enjoy a film. Quite the contrary in Marquette this weekend and in theaters across America as “American Sniper” shattered records after its Jan. 16 release. In fact, it sold out moments before I bought my own ticket the first time I tried to see it on Saturday.

The film, based on the book by Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, grossed $107.2 million on its release weekend and $64.4 million its second weekend. Approaching its third weekend in theaters, it is estimated to be the top grossing war film in history, surpassing Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” — a feat that requires earning over $215 million dollars. It has also been nominated for numerous awards. The film claimed six Academy Award nominations alone, including Best Actor and Best Picture

Despite all of this recognition, this isn’t what you’ll read about in most commentary surrounding the film.

Major players in the film industry are weighing in with their own opinions. Seth Rogen expressed an opinion via Twitter, “‘American Sniper’ kind of reminds me of the movie that’s showing in the third act of ‘Inglourious Basterds.’”

This tweet sparked a debate about whether or not Rogen was equating “American Sniper” to  Nazi propaganda. He later clarified his statement, “I wasn’t comparing the two. Big difference between comparing and reminding. Apples remind me of oranges. Can’t compare them though,” and moments later adding, “but if you were having a slow news day, you’re welcome for me giving you the opportunity to blow something completely out of proportion.”

Michael Moore, the successful documentary filmmaker, entered the conversation in perhaps the most controversial way, calling snipers on either side of a fight “cowards.” He justified his statement by saying that his father’s brother was killed by a Japanese sniper. Other celebrities and news sources are firing back at this critique calling Moore “idiotic.” Kid Rock was quoted as saying “f— you” to both Moore and Rogen, despite Rogen’s sentiment that he enjoyed the film.

Right wing politicians are calling it a patriotic film celebrating a war hero. Left wing politicians are calling it an illustration of an unjust war we shouldn’t be fighting. He said, she said.

The film’s director, Clint Eastwood, and star actor, Bradley Cooper, have explained that the intention of the film was neither of these but instead to portray an accurate picture of the effects of war on soldiers and families and to depict the life of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. Cooper transformed himself into Kyle in a very believable way. His portrayal felt impressively accurate, and having read Kyle’s book, I would say this was no easy task — Kyle is quite the character.

I don’t care if you lean to the right or to the left, this movie is a must see and it brings up some of the issues surrounding war that nobody wants to talk about: post traumatic stress, family stress, soldier morale and the purpose of war.

The film centers around Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and his four tours overseas while also trying to maintain a healthy family life. The film begins with a background of Kyle, his younger life and his father’s words of wisdom. It jumps ahead to Kyle as a late 20’s rodeo star living with his younger brother. One evening, while watching the news, he becomes inspired to join the military and his recruiter suggests one of the most difficult special forces to join in the world — the Navy SEALs.

After completing initial training, Kyle meets his future wife in a bar and the love story within the war film begins. Kyle goes to sniper school as he awaits his first overseas deployment. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Kyle weds Taya, played by Sienna Miller, and heads off for his first tour.

Four tours later, we have seen almost every reality of a war story: Kyle’s death toll builds, he becomes a wanted man with a bounty on his head in the Middle East, he sees his comrades question the war, he watches his brothers in war killed, he sees brutal realities of war violence, he begins and finishes a manhunt, has two children and gradually descends into a deeper state of post-traumatic stress. Each time he returns to combat, you sink with him. In the final scene of the film before Kyle leaves with the veteran that will murder him, your gut tells you something is wrong. When Taya says goodbye to Kyle, makes eye contact with the veteran and closes the door, my stomach began to hurt, and it continued to until I left the theater. I’ve never actually watched a film that was quite literally gut-wrenching until now.

The real scenes of Kyle’s motorcade, his funeral at the Cowboy’s football stadium and his coffin covered in Navy SEAL badges definitely had me choked up. It is a mix of both sadness for his death and a rising feeling of patriotism. The silence at the end of the film forced a respectful hush as the almost completely full theater exited.

As much as I appreciated the film, no movie is perfect. It was cringe-worthy to watch both Sienna Miller and Bradley Cooper handle a very obviously fake baby. Those scenes, which could have been integral to the family life storyline, lost their prominence by how distracting the stiff, clearly unhuman infant shifting hands barely flinched. Another shortcoming of the film was the lack of military women shown. I only recall two or three women in uniform. This can be said for many war films, however, which is an unfortunate truth.

Some have called Kyle “an American hero” and some have called him “a psychopath patriot.” Regardless of what you think of him, you have to respect his four-tour service for the U.S.

Of course this film is going to spark political debate, because war is politics, and of course this movie may appear biased because it is made from source material from a single man’s experience in war. However, as far as quality of storytelling, editing, sound, actor performance and cinematography go, the real evaluative qualities of a film, it was very well done.

Although films do have the power to influence large audiences and make statements about societal issues, at the end of the day, the purpose is to entertain and make a profit. “American Sniper” achieved both.