American Sniper (2014)
It was hardly surprising that the movie adaptation of Chris Kyle's autobiography American Sniper, would cause controversy. The Iraq war, US Foreign Policy and national pride are seldom subjects that are discussed in a calm and measured fashion. And then there are the personal politics of director Clint Eastwood to consider. Hence there were claims from some quarters upon the movie’s release, that it was Islamophobic and counter claims that criticisms of the late Chris Kyle were unpatriotic. There still remain issues regarding the authenticity of events depicted in the source text and subsequently the movies screenplay by Jason Hall. Yet none of these factors have in anyway impacted upon the film's box office returns which currently stands at $247,900,417 worldwide.
American Sniper is directed by Clint Eastwood in his customary minimalist and no-nonsense fashion, allowing us to focus on the subject matter without any unnecessary embellishment. Tom Stern's cinematography is far from flamboyant and appropriately stark. The central performances by Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle and Sienna Miller as his wife Taya Renae Kyle are both strong and clearly defined. Criticisms about a lack of depth and balance are misplaced as far as I'm concerned. If real people have strong views or convictions should that reality not be reflected in the script? Furthermore this is not a movie about the Iraq War itself and an exploration of the geo-political ramifications. It is simply a soldier’s story, told from his perspective. It is also a drama and not a documentary.
Eastwood has often explored within his movies the theme of violence and the impact it has upon all involved. In this instance he has chosen to focus upon one particular individual. Steven Spielberg, who was at one point associated with adapting this work, has indicated that he would have approached the subject differently. He intended to explore the curious duality between Chris Kyle and "Mustafa", his Iraqi rival and ex-Olympic marksman. Eastwood takes a different path depicting the emotional toll four tours of duty has upon Kyle and his family. Contrary to some opinions there is no triumphalist tone to the proceedings, nor are the action sequences overblown spectacles. They are straight forward and functional, very much in accord with the director’s approach to film making. The Iraqi's that are depicted in the movie are combatants and are treated as such. Beyond that there is no overt agenda against Islam nor does the film adopt any major political stance. The characters on screen certainly have their own views but American Sniper simply depicts them, rather than endorses them.
There are some flaws in the narrative but they are mainly procedural, rather than ideological. I would have liked to have seen more of Kyles home life between tours, as well as some exploration of the controversies surrounding his book. As for the codicil at the movies end regarding the news coverage of his subsequent death and funeral, again I see this as just a reflection of events rather than a specific commentary upon them. Overall these criticisms do not undermine the movie nor detract from the strong performances. However due to the emotive nature of US politics and even the reputation of its director, perceptions and opinions may well possibly have been skewed regarding the movie’s merits and its perspective.
A notable aspect regarding American Sniper is its soundtrack or virtual lack of one. Beyond three credited pieces of music used at strategic points in the story the movie has no overall score. However many viewers have drawn attention to the montage of news footage regarding Chris Kyles funeral shown at the end of the film. It plays out to a track called "The Funeral", composed by the great Ennio Morricone. The piece is a subtle variation of Taps, a tune played at dusk by the US military. The cue called Il Funerale was first used in the spaghetti Western “Il Ritorno di Ringo” AKA The Return of Ringo in 1965. Like so much of the composer’s work, its inherent beauty lends itself to intelligent use in other movies, thus it greatly compliments the final scenes of American Sniper.