Motion Picture Character of the Week

Bradley Cooper as „American Sniper“

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) sits in front of his television. Gun-shots, helicopters and sounds of war are audible. But in fact it’s neither reality nor a television program, it only takes place inside Chris Kyle’s head. His mind is stuck in a war he cannot leave.

This scene, from the last quarter of the film, is at the root of the idea that Clint Eastwood’s latest is an anti-war-film, … accidentally, probably? Controversy around both the original story, around Kyle’s own unrepentant military boosterism, and around the film’s own portrayal were most likely the reasons why „American Sniper“ was overlooked at the Oscars. At points it seemed like everyone could find a bias they didn’t like in the movie..

„American Sniper“ is based on the autobiography of real-life shooter Chris Kyle, responsible for 160 kills during his service in Iraq and well-known for being the most ‘successful’ sniper in U.S. history. However, a series of lies, dodgily-justified shootings and fairly appalling public statements turned Kyle into probably the most controversial military ‘hero’ of recent American times. So is this an all-American-hero-story… or not?

One of the most noticed films over the last years was Kathryn Bigelows´ „Hurt Locker“, released in 2010. Also a film about a war hero, yet the story of bomb squad member William James comes to the fore.
A hero on the fields, but back home he isn’t able to cope with his life anymore and is repeatedly overwhelmed of his own actions and missing structures. Kathryn Bidelows hero is described much more simple as the one of Eastwood. His motivation remains unclear.´

Chris Kyles is a much more detailed character. This regular guy from Texas is a patriot, raised by a strict father, brought to war by the bombs of Dar-es-Salam, mentally forced into war by 9/11. He wants to be the shepherd dog his father, as shown in retrospection, wanted to see in him. A man who cares for his loved ones. As simpel as this beginning of the storyline is, as interesting it becomes, when you dig deeper into the film. Unlike as in „Hurt Locker“ the excessive demands don’t come into play with his return from service, but with his work with other veterans, that helps Chris Kyle to deal with his experiences. His wounds become visible to the viewers.

The VA, an institution for veterans care, is well-known for being a badly functional institution of the USA. The veterans who joined the war for friends, other soldiers and the country, being attacked or wounded, and who killed there, don’t find enough support back home. The physical and mental injuries can hardly be treated and therefore become more visible. Everyday life in a war still is accompanied by ground troops. The „clean“ war, that has been propagandized since Gulf War II, does not exist.The amount of killed soldiers, fighters and civilians speak a clear language.

„American Sniper“ plays with numbers. Chris Kyle quickly becomes popular, everyone wants to meet the legend behind al these successful shootings – but for every number he has killed there is a face and a story. Killing another human being isn’t that simple, not even for trained soldiers.

Already the first scene of the movie shows what it takes to make a decision.A grenade is handed over to a young Iraqi, hardly older than 9 years, and Kyle decides to shoot. To protect his companions („he could have killed ten of us“) – so is this an exploit? The viewer’s perspective through a sight pipe shoes something completely different. Kyle cannot take his eyes off this deadly injured boy.

Chris Kyle is haunted by these war incidents. Not on the fields, but close to his home on a rifle range he is shot by another veteran who suffers from a post-traumatic stress disorder. But this is not shown to the viewers. Eastwood leaves it to a text shown an the screen. As much as the film doesn’t lack explicit pictures of violence, it backs off here. And as much dramatic, sad and almost cynical this might appear: if Eastwood accidentally makes a film, that doesn’t work as an heroic epic, he at least doesn’t walk (also accidentally) into the trap to act against the second constitutional amendment: the right to keep and bear arms.


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