Is 'American Sniper' an anti-war film?

American Sniper director Clint Eastwood says his film is an anti-war statement. But Bill Maher called the film's subject, sharpshooter Chris Kyle, "a psychopath patriot."

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
American Sniper director Clint Eastwood arrives for the National Board of Review gala in the Manhattan borough of New York January 6, 2015. Eastwood calls his latest film an "anti-war" movie.

Does American Sniper glorify or debase war?

That's the question at the heart of a growing controversy over what has been called "perhaps the biggest war movie of all time," a surprise box office hit that has grossed more than $200 million and is nominated for six Oscars, including best actor and best picture.

It's also ignited a ferocious debate about the Iraq war, with personalities from Sarah Palin to Michael Moore to director Clint Eastwood himself, clashing about the film's message.

As the Monitor reported, "the movie follows the life of Chris Kyle – one of the deadliest snipers and a US Navy SEAL – and his deployment on four tours to Iraq. During this time, he was credited with 160 kills before he was honorably discharged in 2009 after 10 years of service. His 2012 memoir, also titled "American Sniper," bluntly illustrates the realities of war and the trauma experienced by many vets."

Some critics say the movie glorifies war.

Actor Seth Rogen and Mr. Moore took aim at American Sniper on Twitter, with Mr. Rogen saying the film reminded him of a scene about Nazi propaganda in the film "Inglourious Basterds," and Moore calling snipers "cowards."

Political satirist Bill Maher also weighed in, calling the film's subject, sharpshooter Chris Kyle, "a psychopath patriot."

And Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone described the antagonist as a “killing machine with a heart of gold."

In response, scores of conservatives, including former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, country music star Blake Shelton, and singer-songwriter Kid Rock, have defended American Sniper as a pro-war film that honors servicemen and women.

Palin addressed "Hollywood leftists" on Facebook. "[W]hile caressing shiny plastic trophies you exchange among one another while spitting on the graves of freedom fighters who allow you to do what you do, just realize the rest of America knows you're not fit to shine Chris Kyle's combat boots," she wrote.

Mr. Shelton shamed American Sniper critics on Twitter, saying "Sickens me to see celebrities or anybody slam the very people who protect their right to talk [expletive].. #truecowards. Shelton also retweeted this: 

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has called it "everything Hollywood hates," and actors Rob Lowe and Jane Fonda have also spoken up to defend the movie.

 Even director Eastwood himself has weighed in on the debate. At a Producers Guild Awards event over the weekend, he insisted that, rather than glorifying combat, “American Sniper” is actually anti-war.

"The biggest anti-war statement any film" can make is showing "the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did," Eastwood said at the Producers Guild event on Saturday.

One of the film's stars, actor Bradley Cooper, says he was surprised by the controversy the movie raised.

"This movie was always a character study about what the plight is for a soldier...It's not a political discussion about war," he told the Daily Beast at a Washington, D.C. screening of the movie.

So is American Sniper a pro-war or anti-war film?

There's no easy answer.

"That “American Sniper” has been greeted with such different interpretations attests to a movie that never hews to obvious ideological lines," writes the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday. "The fact that no one knows quite how to take “American Sniper” — that it can’t be reductively labeled as a polemic — is typical of a genre that often lands like a square peg in the round hole of our hyper-partisan political discourse."

But perhaps the answer lies in the views of the moviegoer. As in most things in life, you find what you are looking for, writes Rare editor Jack Hunter.

"If you were a supporter of the Iraq War or a more aggressive U.S. foreign policy in general, you would probably find yourself agreeing with the soldiers’ mission. That doesn’t make the movie “pro-war.” It means the viewer is," he writes. "But calling this film anti-war would say as much about me as the movie. Portraying it one-sidedly as “pro-war” or “anti-war” says more about the critics than it does American Sniper."

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