February 27, 2015 Film Reviews


There is always a lucrative market for war movies; their enduring popularity appears to be as profitable as their subject matter. Recreating the battlefield on the silver screen seems to serve a myriad of functions: spectacular wish-fulfilment, stirring patriotism, expiating guilt, honouring the victorious and remembering the fallen.

In director Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (2014), one encounters, alongside the aforementioned, another and more disconcerting dimension of the genre: a disturbing portrait of dehumanisation and the devastating futility of war.

It is one of the most reprehensible and tragic of ironies: one of the deadliest marksman in American military history, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) survives four horrific tours of duty, claims more than 160 lives in the name of ‘God, family and country’, returns to his loyal and loving wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and his doting children, only to succumb to a former marine’s bullet. At home. On U.S. soil. In the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is a lamentable predicament that prompts the following questions: Whom were you really fighting? Against what threat or nemesis were you protecting your family, your freedom and your country?

The posing of these questions underscores the elusive and unpredictable character of the adversary in times of conflict and war. The enemy, it seems, is not what you expect or are trained to identify. Indeed, it is an agent that you don’t see coming. The enemy escapes your perception, defies your expertise, compromises your quiet confidence. It is not the foreigner residing in a foreign land. No, the enemy is already here and perhaps always has been. Biding his time. Patiently waiting for you, at the end of your journey.

The antagonist is not necessarily the “savage” of the Middle East, to quote the film’s Texan-accented parlance. Instead, he can be the “brother”, the “neighbour”, the “patriot”, even an ex-soldier. Just like you. One of your own. A product of what certain political scientists call ‘manufactured consent’, media-generated xenophobia, galvanising nationalism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and frail, fractured, masculinity.

Among the many other queries that are triggered by American Sniper, surfacing like spectres of the subconscious, the following resound with irrepressible urgency: Whose wars are these anyway? What is the condition of their possibility? And why do poor, anxious, troubled men continue waging them?



– Dr. Varga Hosseini