After my decennial venture to a movie theater, I have come to one major conclusion: There is less to "American Sniper," based on the memoir by Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle, than meets the eye.
Of course, it's not consistent with the book, as pointed out here, here, here, and here. Particularly telling, however, is the matter of villain Mustafa, of whom Slate's Courtney Duckworth writes
In the movie, a character named Mustafa (Sammy Sheik) becomes Kyle’s foil and nemesis: a Syrian Olympian “hitting head shots from 500 yards out” who appears from nowhere to down American troops. Unlike Kyle, Mustafa is given no backstory, family, or surname and remains more or less anonymous—we see his face but only in combat. In a climactic moment toward the end of the film, Chris Kyle finally shoots the sniper, who in an earlier scene had killed his friend Ryan Job (or “Biggles”). This is also Kyle’s legendary longest shot: 2,100 yards or a little over a mile.
In truth, these three milestones—defeating his sniper adversary, avenging Biggles, and achieving his longest successful shot—did not align in one moment....
Mustafa, Duckworth notes, is given no backstory, family, or surname and remains more or less anonymous. That was no accident. There are no more than a few lines uttered, and no character development, of the enemy- Muslim, Arab, terrorist, civilian; they're all cut from the same cloth in this movie. There is no mention of Shiite or Sunni, no distinction made among anyone who isn't an American, presumably because the audience might then begin to question the whole bloody- and failed- enterprise. It's us vs. them.
Nor is the movie without consequence. After interviewing sniper Garett Repppenhagen, Dennis Trainor in Salon argues it is
Dangerous because kids will sign up for the military because of this movie. Dangerous because our leaders have plans for those kids. Some will kill. Some will be killed. Or worse. There is no narrative existing outside the strict confines of “American Sniper’s” iron sights that allows for the war on terror to be over. It’s like a broken record looping over and over: attack, blowback and attack. Repeat.
Regrettably, the movie benefits because of its inaccuracies. On the 1/24 broadcast of Real Time, Bill Maher, responding to American Sniper defender Bret Stephens, maintains (at 4:34 of the video belos) "We;re not condemning it. And I was making a point that the real Chris Kyle is different than the movie Chirs Kyle. You're right- there's more ambiguity in the movie than in the book." The usually insightful Maher- whom a moment earlier had recognized Americans too often "cannot see any ambiguity"- therein walked back a bit of his criticism of the film precisely because the latter was not accurate.
Trainor maintains the inaccurate portrayal of Chris Kyle
.... is unfortunate, and not just for those of us who are insulted by a movie that so ignores important historical context as to cross the line from art to propaganda. It robs movie lovers of a better movie. Allowing such complexities into the narrative, or even framing the context of Kyle’s time in Iraq truthfully, would have made it a stronger story.
Trainor seems to have recognized something few others have. With all the controversy, the Academy Award nominations, and the politically correct adulation for director and Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood and of Bradley Cooper, not many people have noticed American Sniper is a fairly good movie. A fairly good war movie, and little else. It is not a great movie. That, in the long run, should not be the legacy of a propaganda piece. But it does put the lie to conservatives whining that the movie has been insufficiently applauded because Hollywood is just so darned liberal.