I just watched American Sniper, having missed it on general release at the cinema – I was expecting good things. I’d heard that it had an Oscar nomination, so the bar had been set pretty high. Not to mention I’m a big fan of Clint Eastwood films, Gran Torino genuinely moved me as a piece of cinematography. So that bars is getting moved higher and higher. Sadly, American Sniper is a confusing mess of a film (read: propaganda), but maybe it’s the film we need right now and not the one we deserve.
To understand American Sniper’s significance you need to plot it’s trajectory against a wider social backdrop, our recent history. This is film shows that we’re not ready to really deal with the Iraq war.
We still need our heroes and we can’t handle the fact that the ‘War on Terror’ and subsequent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t anything but clear cut victories. It took 10 years after Vietnam for our films to tackle the other side of conflict. Casualties of War starring Michael J Fox is an example of this. In the film Michael J Fox plays a soldier who tries to stop the rape of Vietnam girl – the film came out in 1989.
It took even longer after World War 2 – Der Untergang/Downfall is an excellent portrayal of Hitler’s last days, it’s mature, fucked up and complex film that isn’t that easy to watch. It came out even more recently. Still to this day there aren’t that many films that have tried to analyse an aspect of World War 2 in a mature, un-biased manner, and even less that have come from Germany.
This brings me back to American Sniper, the film is based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, the US army’s most prolific sniper with 160 confirmed kills. Hailed as an American hero, the film whitewashes over the fact that he illegally made up large chunks of his book, so much that a US senator successfully sued him for $1.8m. Having read up on Chris Kyle after the film it sounds like he was suffering from a hero complex. Searching for anything that kept his name up there.
Talking of war, the video we’ve linked to up at the top there is an excellent documentary from VICE about the Afghan security forces. It’s well worth the watch if you’re up for some uncomfortable viewing about how messy and unresolved our exit from Afghanistan really is. Perhaps Nelson from the Simpsons sums it up perfectly, “some of us prefer an illusion over despair”.