American Sniper or American Psycho?

Article by Carlos Po

Photo compiled by Ji Young Kim

Released last January 16, American Sniper started the year off for Hollywood and has proven to be both a critical and a commercial success having earned praise from critics and garnering almost $400 million worldwide. says that the movie “delivers a tense, vivid tribute to its real-life subject,” and it is regarded by some members of the military in its accuracy.

Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, the film chronicles the life of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in US military history. The film takes a very firm anti-war sentiment by depicting the loss of humanity necessary for an average man like Kyle to take a life and his obsessive need to constantly save people. The autobiographical film even ends with [SPOILER] Kyle dying at the hands of a mentally unstable ex-Marine struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) [SPOILER].

But the film is not without its gray areas. Earlier this year, documentary filmmaker and outspoken political activist Michael Moore tweeted “My uncle [was] killed by [a] sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. [They] will shoot [you] in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders [are] worse,” and followed up with a second tweet, “But if you’re on the roof of your home defending it from invaders who’ve come 7K miles, you are not a sniper, [you] are brave, [you] are a neighbor.” Moore’s comment has elicited some dramatic responses from conservatives, and Moore has since tweeted again saying “Hmm. I never tweeted [one] word [about] [American Sniper]/[Chris Kyle]. I said my uncle [was] killed by [a] sniper in WWII; only cowards would do that [to] him, others”. Moore, along with other personalities such as A-lister Seth Rogen, who compared the film to Nazi propaganda, have taken issue with the portrayal of a mad killer as a hero and the whitewashing of Kyle into an unambiguous hero.

Rolling Stone magazine in particular has noted that throughout the film Kyle is wearing significantly lighter clothing than the film’s on-and-off antagonist, rival Iraqi sniper Mustafa, who is primarily seen wearing jet-black clothing. Juxtaposition, as we’ve seen from the Bible to pop culture figures like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, is a classic artistic technique used to easily distinguish the heroes from the villains. And thus, it is clear what message American Sniper is sending its viewers. Additionally American Sniper renders Chris Kyle’s intentions and motives as sane and rational however when one reads his actual autobiography it’s hard to not see the extent to which Kyle was actually mentally unstable especially when he spouts questionable wisdom such as “Maybe war isn’t really fun but I certainly was enjoying it.” At one point, he even notes, “I hate the damn savages,” a crude reference to his Iraqi enemies. A fellow war veteran claimed that “the film is like peering into a sniper scope — it offers a very limited view.”

American Sniper is one of the most divisive movies of 2014: some call it a thrilling and realistic take on the toll of war while others call it pure propaganda, an oversimplification that simply panders to the general populace. Whatever your opinion, you can be sure that there will be someone to counter it as it has definitely been one of the most-talked about films of 2014.