American Sniper Is An Ordinary War Movie

Monday, February 16th, 2015

American Sniper is what most well-written war movies were like pre-Vietnam:

Watch a movie like 12 O Clock High for a change and you won’t get the critique of Apocalypse Now, Deer Hunter, Platoon, and other similar films. You won’t even get the postmodern bricolage of Inglorious Basterds. You will get a grim, character-based war film. Or, for example, see Eastwood’s own Letters from Iwo Jima, which is not a critique of the Imperial Japanese Army (an institution far more clearly in the wrong than the US military in Iraq) as much as an attempt to relay to American audiences that there were human beings on the other side of the beachhead during the brutal island-hopping subset of the Pacific campaign.

Believe it or not, wars are not experienced by most participants as a series of Political Big Issue Statements. A casual read of many military memoirs will reveal more close-to-the-bone matters such as family, relationships and concern for fellow comrades, frustrations and bitterness with bureaucracy, a mixture of fear, loathing, and sometimes admiration for the opponent, and often crude and politically incorrect sentiments about opponents and noncombatants. When politics enters, it isn’t necessarily sophisticated or empirically accurate. It’s often black and white, fuzzy, or an afterthought altogether.

Whatever their opinions about the war, audiences used to enjoy watching movies about these kinds of people. Because they can relate to them more than walking, talking, mouthpieces for liberal antiwar critics that ritually denounce Richard Perle and Dick Cheney stand-ins every half hour of the movie. Almost every single Iraq War movie has been an enormous financial failure. But a nation that nonetheless is still remarkably ambivalent and divided about the war itself nonetheless managed to make the makers of American Sniper quite rich, if the box office gross from the last two weekend alone is evidenced. Maybe that has to do with American audiences wanting a well-made war film, not Michael Moore redux or an high-end art movie.


  1. Faze says:

    Traditional war movies aren’t about “the war” itself, they are about human beings who find themselves in a war. They are about people making choices, solving problems, interacting in groups. Most interestingly, they are about people doing all these things in the near shadow of death. They are intensified snapshots of the human condition. Some post-Vietnam movies still do this. In addition to Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima films, there is “Black Hawk Down”, “Private Ryan”, and “Glory”. There may be others I’ve missed.

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