Because I am on a mission to see as many Oscar-nominated movies as possible before February 22, last night I saw American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood. The two-hour film featured a solid performance by Bradley Cooper, who portrayed sharpshooter SEAL Chris Kyle. It also did a good job of showing how impossible it is to see your target in a sandstorm. And it made clear that veterans return from war with all kinds of scars, and not all of them are visible.
But I didn’t really get why his story was made into a feature film. It was based on a book written by the title character, who was killed before the movie was made. The story begins with a young boy in Texas who grows up being told that he needs to protect his own, so it’s no surprise when we see him enlist after 9/11.
He is, of course, changed by war, and he predictably has difficulty at home when he’s between tours because his wife feels she’s lost the man she married. But he returns not once but three times; and his fourth tour becomes a vendetta to set things right by killing the notorious sniper called “the Butcher,” who has killed his SEAL buddies.
Then in the last shot of the movie, we see our hero leave with the person who is going to kill him, and one sentence appears abruptly onscreen that essentially says that Chris Kyle was killed by a veteran, a man he was trying to help.
So what’s the message here? No good deed goes unpunished? He who lives by the sword dies by the sword? That it’s more dangerous to be on home soil than fighting terrorists thousands of miles away? It’s not that I think all art must have a clearly defined message, but I saw little else of value in this movie, so I assumed there was a take-home message.
Otherwise it’s just the tale of a highly skilled sniper who suffers losses, becomes somewhat dehumanized, but then bounces back just to be shot and killed at age 39.
I was more curious about the relationship between him and his younger brother, which was only touched on and then abandoned. And the story behind his death, were more of it known, would have been a fascinating exploration of mental illness among vets. Or the tragic situation he left behind—a widow with two young children—that’s a movie that could hold my interest.