American Sniper – Christian Movie Review
Director and screen legend Clint Eastwood has added a masterpiece to the war genre. “American Sniper” tells the true story of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in US history. And, according to reports, it is breaking records at the box office, with an estimated $80 million for its opening weekend, the biggest for any January opening and the biggest in Eastwood’s career.
But this film is far more than just a gripping battlefield saga, though it does do that in spades. It is a heart-wrenching, vivid portrait of how the battlefield persists in the hearts and minds of soldiers after they’ve returned home.
According to the Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs, the national veteran suicide statistic is horrendous — 23 veterans commit suicide a day — and divorce is also very common among soldiers who suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or combat trauma.
(Amazingly, Mighty Oaks, the only faith-based group endorsed by the Marine Corps, has had a 100% success rate — no suicides or divorces among the men and women who have gone through their programs. Programs like that are worth our support. Click here to find out more about their good work. Chris Kyle’s best friend Travis, who is a Christian, is an instructor at Mighty Oaks.)
After a look at the parental guidance content, I’ll explain why the film is such a masterpiece and how it brought the full weight of Chris Kyle’s true story onto the screen with such explosive power.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality: A few implied sex scenes between a husband and wife but no nudity. A wife flirts seductively with her husband. A woman is seen in her bra and underwear. Sexual jokes are common in conversations among soldiers.
Violence/Gore: The film has very intense R-rated graphic violence. Besides scores of soldiers getting shot (with a great deal of blood and carnage sprayed everywhere), the scenes involving a terrorist torturing a child and killing the boy are the hardest to watch, or hear, more accurately, because it is seen from a distance with no graphic close-up shots. It’s even harder to watch because, after reading the news about the Islamic terrorists in ISIS and other terrorist groups, we know that these Islamic extremists do this (and worse) to children. In another scene (not involving children, thankfully), we see a terrorist’s torture chamber filled with gore, and it looks like a scene from a horror movie. Although the film showed restraint in some of these scenes by not lingering very long or showing close-up shots, it still depicts the evil of these Islamic terrorists in a way that forces you to come to terms with it. There are several graphic close-up shots of soldiers being care for by medical staff after being severely wounded.
Language: As is par for the course in realistic war films, there are countless uses of the f-word and other obscenities and vulgarities between soldiers during most of the wartime scenes.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Drinking and smoking is depicted in bars and in war theaters when soldiers are not in combat situations.
Frightening/Intense Content: This is an extremely intense war movie, and anyone sensitive to wartime violence or high-adrenaline life-or-death cinematic sequences might find this movie too stressful.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
This film might very well be Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece as a director. It is certainly his most successful commercially. The actors, especially the lead Bradley Cooper, delivered top-of-their-game performances that elevated every other element of the production to a higher level. In an interview, Chris Kyle’s wife said that Bradley Cooper’s depiction of her husband was eerily similar to Kyle. And Cooper — and the supporting cast — convey the trauma of war with incredible emotional realism. It really hits you in the gut. You can’t really walk away from this movie without a tear in your eye, and every element — from the directing to the acting to the screenwriting to the pacing of scenes to the editing to the sound mixing to the symbolic sandstorm that covers everything at the film’s climax and overwhelms the senses — all comes into play like a finely tuned Navy SEAL team storming a beach and overwhelming its target. And the way the film cuts between the sensory overload of war to the quiet, mundane routine of civilian life stateside becomes a very powerful weapon in Eastwood’s sure-shot hands.
Worldview and Themes of Redemption
Chris Kyle was a Christian, and in the film we see him carrying a Bible whenever he’s in battle. In real life, he took his kids to church every Sunday after he left the military, and he took his faith just as seriously as he did serving his country. And because the film is based on Kyle’s book — and because Eastwood deftly and respectfully portrays Kyle and every element that formed his personality — a Christian worldview informs the film, especially, in my opinion, regarding the nature of evil.
For this reason, “American Sniper” does something interesting — something surprising that you don’t see in many Hollywood movies these days.
It states unequivocally — through dialogue and through the context of certain scenes — that there is such a thing as pure evil in the world, that entire cultures and even religions can become filled with evil and ruled by it, and this shockingly savage, irrational evil must be confronted with force in order to protect the innocent people that the evil wishes to destroy.
Although the following quote is not in the movie or connected with it in any way, one Iraq veteran, in an article written about his experiences, said this about his deployment:
I learned the enemy is more evil than you can imagine…Since I’ve returned — and it’s been almost six years — I haven’t stopped talking about the nature of the jihadist enemy. I share the stories as much as I can (when the context is appropriate), yet I continue to be discouraged by how few Americans…truly understand (or even try to understand) what the world faces. So they react in outrage when Israel strikes at Hamas, use the collapse in Iraq to once again score political points against President Bush, and use words like “irresponsible” to describe actions like launching rockets at civilians while hiding behind civilian human shields.
Although the film’s goal is to tell the story of Chris Kyle and shine a spotlight on the epidemic of PTSD among soldiers, by doing this the movie also confronts head-on the strange form of moral relativism prevalent in the West today that refuses to acknowledge the existence of evil (though not all relativists do that, to be fair).
Yes, there are even educated moral relativists here in the West who shy away from using the e-word to describe terrorism and Islamic jihad. In the minds of these moral relativists, the horrendous acts of these individuals are never the fault of that individual’s religion or culture (or even the individual, I’ve heard one relativist say!) — condemning other cultures is a huge no-no among many some relativists — so the relativist often looks for sources external to the individual’s society, something that “oppresses” the individual, as the thing to blame.
“American Sniper” challenges this notion in the way that it depicts the shocking, systemic, society-encompassing evil of the extremists whom Chris Kyle faced on the battlefield.
Chris Kyle’s journey of redemption — his most difficult battle (as he described it in his own words) — occurs when he comes home and must somehow reconcile his stateside life with the world that he has just left — a world in which he saw unspeakable acts of evil on a daily basis, but also a world where he saw profound meaning in his daily struggle to protect the lives of his fellow soldiers. This journey that he takes, though painful to watch, is wonderfully inspiring and edifying to the spirit.
Most importantly — at least as far as the filmmakers are concerned, I’m sure — “American Sniper” is a true-to-life, well-researched portrait of a wonderful human being. Yes, Chris Kyle was an unapologetic warrior who certainly did not believe in passivism; but he was also a loving father, a faithful husband, and a selfless, kind, and fun-loving person who would go way out of his way — I mean way out of his way — to help strangers.
Even if it cost him his life.
In other words, Chris Kyle destroys just about every negative stereotype that strident, divisive anti-military factions in our nation create about American soldiers; and the film puts this humane, fair, heartrending portrait of a God-fearing American warrior on full display for the world to see.
And that’s why I love this film so much.
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