The controversy over this movie continues. I finally got around to seeing it a few days ago. It’s on track to become the highest-grossing war movie in history. It’s already outpaced Pearl Harbor and will likely outpace Saving Private Ryan, even if adjusted for inflation. Wow! However, the more popular it gets, the more people bash it. Let’s break down both the movie and the controversy.
Left-wingers are saying this movie is full of lies, propaganda, and jingoism. Right-wingers are saying that Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in American military history, was a hero and he, nor the American military, should not be denigrated.
Before we go on, I’ll be honest and up-front about my own political biases (which is something I wish more pundits did when they discussed these topics, so as to better put them in context).
I’m a libertarian. While I admire the military and always have, and have many good friends who have served in the military, and almost joined the military myself as a young man, I am and always have been 100% opposed to the war in Iraq. I think it’s a disgrace on America’s legacy and I think it will go down in history as the second greatest American military blunder of all time, just behind the war in Vietnam. Spending trillions of taxpayer dollars to send 500,000 troops to invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, and kill thousands upon thousands of people, many of them civilians and innocents, just to take on a teeny tiny percentage of its citizens who might be in Al-Qaeda, is insanity of the highest order. Both Bush and Obama have blood on their hands for executing and continuing this insane war, and the left-wingers are indeed correct when they say this war was more about corporate oil than it was about protecting American citizens from terrorists. Not to mention the fact that the entire war in Iraq was a failure, since after all that most of the country is now under the control of ISIS, terrorists who are even worse than Al-Qaeda.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s be real for a minute about how left-wingers and right-wingers will react to a movie like this.
If you are a left-wing person, you’re going to hate ANY movie that portrays any American soldiers in Iraq as good guys. This is true whether or not the movie is truthful about what it portrays. So the left-wingers getting upset that this movie takes liberties with the truth (and it does), is a smokescreen. You’d be just as upset at this film, or any film, if it was 100% honest but portrayed American soldiers in Iraq as heroes. You hate the war in Iraq (and I agree with you) but odds are you also dislike the military in general (there I don’t agree with you). It’s very hard for you to separate your political opinions about the war in Iraq and/or the American military from your feelings about this movie.
On the flip side, if you’re a right-wing conservative, you’re probably going to defend ANY movie that portrays American soldiers as heroes, again, even if the movie falsely portrays these people.
So when you read about so-and-so celebrity who hates the movie and so-and-so celebrity who defends the movie, just remember where both of these people are coming from. Likely neither of them are being intellectually honest.
Does the movie lie? Of course it does. All Hollywood historical movies do. (Is this movie covering events old enough to be called “historical?”) It creates some very evil bad guys, one of which uses a drill to drill into a child’s head, none of which happened in real life. It avoids the fact that Chris Kyle liked to kill Iraqis, and was even quoted in his book by saying things like he wanted to kill anyone holding a Koran. The movie uses editing to suggest that Iraq was connected to the events of 9/11, which of course was not.
So when the left-wingers say this movie is full of lies, well, they’re right. But again, even if this movie was 100% honest they would still hate it, so the fact that the movie re-writes the truth (as all movies do) is sort of irrelevant to the controversy. Movies like JFK, Nixon, and W were also full of “lies,” and for some reason I didn’t see hordes of left-wingers get upset about that (because these movies were largely attacking conservatives).
Is the movie full of propaganda and jingoism? There is some of that in there, but not as much as some are making it out to be. There are times that Kyle says “There is evil here!” and that America Must Fight The Evil™. But this is definitely not flag-waving in-your-face propaganda of the kinds we used to see back in the 1980s with TV shows like G.I Joe and various Chuck Norris movies. Not even close.
Was Chris Kyle a hero? That’s a complicated answer. He fought in an unjust war, that’s certainly true, but Kyle didn’t start the war in Iraq. That was Dick Cheney. So you can’t blame Kyle for the war. Did he like killing people? Yes. His own book makes that very clear. Was he a liar? Yes. It’s been proven in court that he lied his ass off about Jesse Ventura (one of my personal heroes) and he also said some very questionable things about his behavior in the New Orleans riots that simply can’t be true. Did he save lives? Unquestionably he did. I’m sure he saved hundreds if not thousands of lives of his fellow soldiers while deployed in Iraq. True, we should never have been there in the first place, but you can’t deny he at least saved the lives of his fellow soldiers. Did Kyle think he was doing the right thing? Yes. His book and several interviews I’ve seen make that very clear.
Is it a good movie? Oh yes. It’s amazingly good. Clint Eastwood knows how to direct a film, and Bradley Cooper is astounding, every bit as good as Jake Gyllenhaal was in Nightcrawler. You can’t even see Bradley Cooper in the character he plays, and that’s saying a lot since Cooper has such a distinctive and classic good-looking-guy look. This movie is worth watching just for Cooper’s portrayal of this man, particularly his voice and his eyes. Simply amazing.
Sadly, none of the other characters are particularly interesting, but that’s a minor quibble. This is a very well-crafted movie, and I really liked how there was almost no music in the film. When there was music, it was almost all drums. Very cool.
The bottom line for me is that this is a very well-done movie about a soldier with both good and bad qualities in the middle of a very unjust war we should never have fought. Complicated, I know, but that’s what makes this controversy so interesting.