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Screen » Film

The Terrorists Have Won

Clint Eastwood's American Sniper shoots (and misses)

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Perhaps you or someone you love saw The Hurt Locker—director Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning story of a bomb-defusing sergeant in the Iraq war who can't disengage from his duties and ends up returning to the country for multiple tours. And perhaps someone or someone you love thought it wasn't "American" enough. Well, do I have the film for those people!

American Sniper is basically The Hurt Locker rewritten for love it or leave it-style Americans who hate war movies that depict our enemies as actual people, rather than evil, swarthy stereotypes. However, unlike The Hurt Locker, American Sniper seriously lacks a sense of forward momentum and suspense... sooooo... hope that's not a deal breaker.

Directed by Clint Eastwood (last seen addressing an empty chair at the 2012 Republican Convention [never forget]), American Sniper tells the sorta-kinda-somewhat true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who the movie repeatedly reminds us was "the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history." (This has not been officially confirmed, so we're just going to have to take Eastwood's word for it.) The movie also tells us Chris became interested in killing things at a very young age, thanks to his Texan hillbilly father, who, one night over dinner, brusquely informs him, "Son, in this world there are only sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs... and [slams his belt down on the table for effect] YOU BETTER BE A SHEEPDOG!" Point noted, Dad!

A gifted shooter, Chris grew up to be a sheepdog... that is, he joined the SEALs following the 9/11 attacks, and—after engaging in an apparently required Officer and a Gentleman-style romance—headed off to Iraq to protect the ground troops by sniping the shit out of all those evil terrorists (AKA men, women, and children) from the rooftops. He quickly became "a legend" (according to every single character in Eastwood's movie) racking up a record number of kills... but when he returned home on leave, he was unable to leave the war behind, and couldn't wait to rush back! (Remember that part from The Hurt Locker? Yeah, me too!)

In American Sniper's defense, Bradley Cooper does a pretty fair job putting a soul into his dead-eyed, marble-mouthed portrayal of shooter Chris Kyle. And Eastwood's direction here is, as always, sure-handed—if strangely bloodless. Unfortunately, the dialogue is as ham-fisted and robotic as if Ronald Reagan arose from the grave to recite it, and fetishizes the American military to the point where you'll wonder if this is actually a sly parody in the vein of Starship Troopers. It is not.

For a director who gave us Letters from Iwo Jima (depicting the perspective of the Japanese soldiers in WWII), American Sniper is nothing but baffling for its inability to spot the slightest bit of humanity in our enemies. Even when it makes a laudable effort to depict the massive toll shooting all those people takes on Kyle's psyche, upon returning to the states, he's instantly cured after one counseling session—which, when you stop to think about it, is pretty fucking insulting to those who served our country.

That being said, I'm certain American Sniper will be nominated for, and win, a whole lot of awards, and there are many people who will think it's the greatest movie ever—that is, if they're not counting The Hurt Locker.

American Sniper

dir. Clint Eastwood

Opens Fri, Jan 16

Various Theaters

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