- It was up for six Oscars, which has never hurt a movie's sums.
- It has arguably one of the best stars working right now in the lead.
- It appeals to military audiences,
- Faith-based audiences; Kyle's Christian beliefs are prominently displayed.
- Red-state audiences.
- Action-movie lovers.
- War-movie lovers.
- A respectable, certified fresh score of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes.
With a demographic as wide is that, how could Eastwood and co. not have hit their mark? But these are summer blockbuster numbers after all. Nobody blinked an eye when the critically reviled fourth installment of the Transformers series pulled in $100 million. But when an R-rated Iraq war movie in January with not-too-expensive $60 million budget pulls that in? There's bound to be criticisms and harsh analyzations of it, and I'm here to quell the fire and address those controversies head-on.
THE MAIN CONCERNS:
1. FAKE BABY CONTROVERSY
2. PRAISING KYLE AS A HERO
This is a very thin line to walk, and I will indeed tread carefully. There are the critics saying there shouldn't be a film about a man who killed 160 people, glorifying the murder of Iraqis. Then there are those who scoff at that, saying killing was Kyle's duty and responsibility by the American military and that he was following orders. That phrase "following orders" is controversial in itself. But I don't think the movie paints Kyle as a man who loved to kill, though in his book he did say some of his killings were "fun." With the godlike decision-making of life or death, there will be an expansion in ego, especially SEALs, who naturally will feel superior once they've completed training. In interviews, Kyle was noted as saying he didn't regret any of his killings. The truth is that's what he was assigned to do, and he did it expertly. The movie shows the way it weighed with him post-Iraq, and never depicted him shooting anyone that didn't pose a threat to his team. Why they were in Iraq is a completely different story, but seeing Kyle as a hero is in no way wrong. He served his country and saved the lives of his fellow SEALs, and that's what's depicted.
3. IS THE MOVIE PROPAGANDA?
I was sure the answer was yes in the first 15 minutes, but then became uncertain. I really, really despise it when filmmakers show clips of 9/11 for emotional string-pulling. A movie dedicated to the subject, United 93, hardly showed the Towers burning. When Kyle sees this and the earlier '98 embassy bombings, he stands up, like Uncle Sam is grabbing him from the shoulders. But I realized that, and I am giving the film the BOTD, that it truly isn't pro-war, but rather pro-soldier. Kyle says that he fights for God, family and country, but right after a fellow soldier tells him he's not sure if he can put his faith in something divine. The clear PTSD he's shown with, as he nearly puts down his dog after a misunderstanding is enough to bring that message home. Eastwood shows the SEALS process looking like sheer hell, and the sandstorm where Kyle nearly dies straight out of a nightmare. Not to mention the impact his absence has on his family, the ones he says he's fighting for. The scene right before he goes and is eventually a killed by a fellow soldier suffering mental illness, was probably dramatically licensed. Did he really tell his son to look after the women? Did he really make a full improvement as Sienna Miller's character notes? Maybe, maybe not. If Kyle was alive he'd still be suffering the blows of PTSD head-on.
I've had the displeasure of reading Twitter fights of this argument, and they made me realize why I deleted mine almost a year ago. All I know is Chris Kyle was no "American psychopath" as his detractors claim, but the man wasn't a saint, and no one is. Personally that's the message I got from Eastwood's movie. If the politics of American Sniper bother you so much, just look at the movie as squarely a fictional piece, and judge it on cinematic merits.