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Movie Review: American Sniper

308555id1i_TheJudge_FinalRated_27x40_1Sheet.inddDoes American Sniper glorify war? Does the film pretend to take very seriously the colossal cost of war, the human toll on both sides, the fact that “war is an adventure from which there is no return” (John Paul II)–but actually delights in it? Kinda, sorta. Even though Clint Eastwood insists he’s more of a dove than a hawk.

Oscar Worthy?

First of all, 84-year-old Eastwood is one heck of a director: short and medium juxtaposed scenes one after the other. Nothing wasted. Cutting in deep and leaving early (that’s how you shoot a scene). USA/Iraq. USA/Iraq. Towards the end of the film, you’re just like, “Wow, I’m really here in the middle of this firefight in the middle of this sandstorm.”

Jason Hall is an amazing writer: no false words, false notes, false emotions, false dialogues. Hall is an actor. If actors can write, they make the best writers. He is nominated for an Oscar.

A transformed, rugged and plain Bradley Cooper–although a solid actor–is surprisingly emotionless, unexpressive and stoic throughout, but maybe he was trying to channel Chris Kyle, the real soldier he plays. Maybe it was a stretch for Cooper to play this “God, country and family” Texan, who was so focused in every way and had so few doubts about his trajectory in life, his identity and mission that he was able to hold it together better than most soldiers.

Likeable, not-stuck-on-himself, unassuming, not-self-absorbed Cooper shines most when he is being a charming woo-er and then husband, or joking with the guys in that “hopeful or die” (not gallows humor) way American soldiers evidently do. Eastwood or Hall deserve an Oscar, but not Cooper, not for this role.

A Just Cause?

Chris’ then-girlfriend (a smart performance by Sienna Miller–a Brit who made me believe she was a Yank) asks the karmic question: “Do you ever think of the person at the other end of your gun?” Yes, he does. He refuses to take killing lightly as some of his buddies seemingly do.

At one point a soldier wavers: “I want to believe in what we’re doing.” And that’s really the question with so many wars and military actions, isn’t it? What did Iraq have to do with 9/11? Did we really go in there after WMD’s (weapons of mass destruction) that some are now reporting do exist (Bush was right?) and are now in the hands of ISIS? (Afghanistan was going after Bin Laden and terrorist camps, I can comprehend that.)

I found myself getting angry at the hell we brought on beautiful Iraq, watching simulated sequences of hapless civilians getting murdered as “collateral,” or because they helped the Americans, or whatever. And in war zones, there’s always the demonic unleashed in myriad other little and big ways. Yet, I’m firmly convinced that the majority of our soldiers who went to Iraq did so with the right intention (to protect country, freedom, because they were sent, as a reaction to 9/11).

So it is possible to have a right purpose in a wrong war. And it is possible to be for soldiers and against a war.

Sex and Violence

It’s interesting how the basic training and drill sergeants for the all-male Navy Seals that Chris was a part of use sexual terms, sexual belittling, etc., to toughen the guys up. But it’s also so very tongue-in-cheek and everyone knows it.

The talk is rough throughout the film, and the violence is quite intense. Sex and gore shots are fleeting. The soldiers alternately dismiss and demean women, as well as live for them.

Conclusion

I have a priest friend who sincerely thinks that war is good for men. That going to war is the best and most noble and “manly” thing a man can do. Can we not offer men something higher than war to dedicate themselves to?


Sister Helena Burns, fsp belongs to the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of religious women dedicated to spreading God's Word through the media: www.pauline.org. She gives workshops to teens and adults on media, philosophy, and Theology of the Body and is the movie reviewer for The Catholic New World, Chicago's Catholic newspaper. You can follow her excellent blog, HellBurns at hellburns.blogspot.com.
  • Guy McClung

    Dear Sister-We cannot offer men anything higher than ” no greater love, to lay down one’s life” for the man next to you in combat in a just war. And, I believe, to lay down one’s life for the unborn child near you whose mother is approaching an abortion business. Guy McClung, San Antonio

  • Florian

    Beautiful Iraq!? Really – the country may be beautiful but the people were brutalized by Saddam Hussein who was as bad as ISIS…no one knows for sure whether or not he had WMDs because he was always given notice when inspectors would be coming – where they would be going. It was very easy to slip them out of the country. There is no doubt that he used killing gas to slaughter those he did not like. And let’s not forget that he would put running, sharp blades in the ground and then have people lowered head first – slowly – as their heads were cut off bit by bit. ISIS decapitates the whole head…brutal and barbaric but so was Hussein. Democrats and Republicans believe Hussein had those WMDs and that he would not hesitate to use them to wipe out his enemies. Did we make a mistake – maybe, or not. No one wants war, no one wants to watch the slaughter ISIS is carrying out, especially on children. But let’s not forget that the greatest slaughter is ongoing – on human babies, pre-birth, in the wombs of their mothers. More than 60 million, generations of human beings slaughtered for no reason except that they were unwanted. Planned Parenthood makes a living killing babies; some Catholic politicians say defiantly that the Church is wrong because a woman has a right to do what she wants with her body. Well, no she doesn’t – she can’t drink and then drive; she cannot take drugs where they are illegal. If she tries to starve herself she could be hospitalized and force fed; and it is not the woman’s body that is cut to pieces and then sucked out of her uterus…nothing – nothing! – is more gruesome than this!!! Terrible that Charlie H’s people were slaughtered in France…but it doesn’t come near to measuring up to the horror or what is being done to INNOCENT pre-birthed babies…at times up until the 9th month of gestation. Mother Theresa used to say when I worked with her in Calcutta that if we would kill the innocent baby in the womb, what would we not do. Have we lost our sense of horror at mass killings or are we stunned only at those already walking around, even if they themselves have done evil things? I would like to hear you and everyone else show the same horror at what is being done to generations of humans being exterminated in the wombs of their mothers. I do not blame the mothers…they’ve been assured that it’s nothing and yet these same women go on to grieve their whole life long, and their families suffer also as happened when a young child learned his sibling had been killed in the womb at the request of his mother. The family was torn apart. Let’s keep things in perspective – please.

  • Florian

    Beautiful Iraq!? Really – the country may be beautiful but the people were brutalized by Saddam Hussein who was as bad as ISIS…no one knows for sure whether or not he had WMDs because he was always given notice when inspectors would be coming – where they would be going. It was very easy to slip them out of the country. There is no doubt that he used killing gas to slaughter those he did not like. And let’s not forget that he would put running, sharp blades in the ground and then have people lowered head first – slowly – as their heads were cut off bit by bit. ISIS decapitates the whole head…brutal and barbaric but so was Hussein. Democrats and Republicans believe Hussein had those WMDs and that he would not hesitate to use them to wipe out his enemies. Did we make a mistake – maybe, or not. No one wants war, no one wants to watch the slaughter ISIS is carrying out, especially on children. But let’s not forget that the greatest slaughter is ongoing – on human babies, pre-birth, in the wombs of their mothers. More than 60 million, generations of human beings slaughtered for no reason except that they were unwanted. Planned Parenthood makes a living killing babies; some Catholic politicians say defiantly that the Church is wrong because a woman has a right to do what she wants with her body. Well, no she doesn’t – she can’t drink and then drive; she cannot take drugs where they are illegal. If she tries to starve herself she could be hospitalized and force fed; and it is not the woman’s body that is cut to pieces and then sucked out of her uterus…nothing – nothing! – is more gruesome than this!!! Terrible that Charlie H’s people were slaughtered in France…but it doesn’t come near to measuring up to the horror or what is being done to INNOCENT pre-birthed babies…at times up until the 9th month of gestation. Mother Theresa used to say when I worked with her in Calcutta that if we would kill the innocent baby in the womb, what would we not do. Have we lost our sense of horror at mass killings or are we stunned only at those already walking around, even if they themselves have done evil things? I would like to hear you and everyone else show the same horror at what is being done to generations of humans being exterminated in the wombs of their mothers. I do not blame the mothers…they’ve been assured that it’s nothing and yet these same women go on to grieve their whole life long, and their families suffer also as happened when a young child learned his sibling had been killed in the womb at the request of his mother. The family was torn apart. Let’s keep things in perspective – please.

  • Terri K

    As a military wife, I thought it was an amazing movie. It is an accurate portrayal of the extreme stress that deployments place on the family. It also does a good job portraying the dichotomy lived by men in the military who will die for their families and country–and kill to do it.

    I LOVED it. In addition to the great writing and directing, Bradley Cooper, beefed up for the role, is mighty pleasant on the eyes.