Imagine, if you will, a film about an elite German sniper shooting down citizens of an occupied country, let's say, for this example, France, during the Second World War.
Let's imagine too that this film was based on the exploits of a real German sniper who, in his memoires, had described his 160 confirmed dead French citizens as savages. I'm guessing that there perhaps wouldn't be a great rush for anyone - who wasn't a fascist - to want to make this film.
American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, is essentially this plot. It's the story of US Navy Seal Chris Kyle; an individual, who in his own words, does not consider the 160 confirmed and 90 more probable Iraqis who he kills to be human.
In many ways American Sniper is like a good old B-Movie Western where the division between good and bad are in sharp and clear juxtaposition. You almost expect the evil Iraqis to be wearing black hats and the American soldiers to be wearing, well, saintly white ones.
Of course it isn't a western; its a standard two-dimensional war film. Americans are good, fully rounded and complex characters. Who love, have families and ultimately only do bad things - to prevent bad things from being done to them. Whilst the Iraqis, on the other hand, are cardboard pantomime characters - there only to be evil and to die.
Eastwood creates and weaves a fantasy of honour, sacrifice and love of country, from a real life which perhaps was fuelled on pathological hatred. Kyle, indeed, was a very troubled man, who after his return to civilian life, claimed to have shot 30 'looters' after Hurricane Katrina, as well as shooting two men who had attempted to rob him and finally knocking out a WWF wrestler in a bar; none of which was ever proven to be true.
In fact the said wrestler even sued and won over $1 million dollars in compensation from Kyle's estate - thus proving this not to be true. Whilst, in contrast, in the film after Kyle leaves the army he is a tranquil creature only doing good for his fellow veterans.
Yet, the power of film, and it's ability for the viewer - in this case me - to be drawn close to and consume the 'life' of the central protagonist, to feel for him, root for him, his life and his 'buddies' momentarily seduced me into this dominate fiction. Then, of course, the credits roll and I and the audience awake from our indoctrination.
American Sniper is an awful film, it's a pernicious film. As it is simply propaganda thinly veiled as entertainment; if only because the life of Chris Kyle has been sanitised and appropriated to posit him as someone who he wasn't. An honest film would have questioned the pshychology of what draws some people to war and why some are drawn also to want to kill.
Bradley Cooper has mentioned that his sole reason for playing Chirs Kyle was to raise the question of what happens to soldiers upon their return - which is an admirable one - yet whilst it is touched on briefly this isn't fully explored.
Wars and the terrible things which governments ask their citizens to do, to others is never clear cut and defined yet American Sniper is a film without political context; it is a film about love of country that does not care for right or wrong. Kyle loves his country; we know this because from a shot of the Twin Towers burning on TV we cut to Kyle enlisting. We see him training and then we see him killing Iraqis.
Something is missing.
Eastwood can do better. His companion piece films of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Look at the invasion of Iwo Jima from both sides of the battle and indeed in Letters from Iwo Jima the Japanese are fully developed characters.
I imagine that the working title of American Sniper was American Hegemony (badum tish) but that's really what this film is about.
Ultimately, I never knew Chris Kyle. My impression of him is one defined from the sources that I have chosen to believe, the one's that support my own world view. Perhaps Kyle was everything that everyone tells us he was - we will never know - and so within the pluralities of 'truth' all that we can do is pick one and believe it....
....just like Eastwood.
Photographh (c) Paul Moseley_The Fort Worth Star-Telegram via AP