Without a doubt, American Sniper is one of the hardest movies to review. Not because it’s difficult finding the right words to use but because at this point, it seems everyone in America has already seen it! A movie making $89.5 million at the box office in January is just unreal. While an argument could be made for money not necessarily being the best indicator of quality, American Sniper is proof that film-goers still have excellent taste. Instead of being a blowhard jingoistic film depicting a sniper killing America’s enemies for 140 minutes, American Sniper is a dramatic character study that’s easily the best picture out of all the Oscar nominees.
Some have compared the film to Nation’s Pride, the propaganda film-within-a-film that plays during Inglorious Basterds‘ third act. It’s an unfavorable comparison that indicates whoever makes the comparison to have entirely missed the point of the film. Nation’s Pride focuses on the ridiculous kill count of a German sniper. It’s all played for laughs, what with the over-the-top death scenes and the American commander calling Hitler to surrender because this one man is just too badass to take down. In other words, if American Sniper really was similar to Nation’s Pride, we’d have a film glorifying all of Chris Kyle’s confirmed kills.
Yes, American Sniper is an action movie at heart but the action is only there to supplement a dramatic character study. Chris Kyle is a Texas man who was raised to be a sheepdog who protects others. He enlists in the Navy after the 1998 embassy bombings and eventually undergoes SEAL training. He meets and marries Taya Renae but is deployed to the Middle-east after 9/11. It’s that dilemma that drives the film’s drama: Kyle’s responsibilities as a husband (and later, father) vs. his beliefs and duty as a soldier.
The dilemma of trying to juggle work, personal beliefs and family is something everyone can resonate with, even if it’s on an incredibly basic level (most jobs aren’t as stressful as Navy SEAL sniper). The film also does an excellent job of humanizing Chris Kyle without glorifying what he did. Yes, the man racked up an impressive kill count but it’s not portrayed as something to be impressed by. Instead, the film showcases Kyle’s guilt over not saving enough of his fellow soldiers and how he’s haunted by his experiences in Iraq. It deals with his PTSD as he re-adjusts to civilian life and his quest to eventually come to peace with himself.
The title American Sniper easily conjures up a preconceived notion of what the movie’s about. Yes, it’s about a sniper with a very impressive kill count but the film explores ideas much deeper than that. The film’s ultimately about a soldier juggling personal responsibilities and coming to terms with the actions he’s done. It’s a character arc and study that most members in the audience will be able to relate to, even if they themselves have never fired a gun.