There have been two very strong reactions to this film. The first has been slightly unexpected, in that it has become a huge success at the box office, the biggest in fact of veteran director Clint Eastwood’s entire career (no mean feat, considering the wide range of success he has had in the field). It has also become the biggest grossing film of 2014 in the United States, and the most financially successful war film of all time – an unprecedented outcome for even its most optimistic supporters, and unquestionable proof that the general moviegoing public (especially in America) have embraced it wholeheartedly. As a commercial venture, the film is inarguably a success.

However, the second strong reaction has been among the left-wing press, and this one is a little harder to admire. The political subtext to the film’s success has led to open accusations that it’s racist, that it promotes an aggressive pro-war stance, and that it glorifies the life of a soldier who became the deadliest marksman in American military history. Given that none of these things are remotely or empirically true, it’s a reasonable assumption to make that the various people making these accusations had not actually seen the film, and in many cases this has proven to be correct.

It’s always disappointing when people criticise films they haven’t seen, and make incorrect assumptions about them, but perhaps even more so when it comes from liberal outlets that should frankly know better. In some ways though, this reaction is understandable – the repercussions of the illegal and immoral US invasion of Iraq are still being keenly felt, and any film that even seems at a cursory glance to be supportive of American military action is going to provoke a strong reaction. Also, the film’s protagonist was a problematic person, and even a decision to adapt his autobiographical book from a neutral perspective is going to be easily mistaken for a hagiography.

Yet that is not what this film is. Jason Hall’s smart script is a very straight record of factual events, with some obvious amendments for dramatic purposes (this is not a documentary) that you get with any such film, but with a pretty clear refusal to judge Chris Kyle as a person. He was a driven and patriotic, even jingoistic individual, but the film is not. He considered his wartime actions admirable, but they scarred him for life and gave him PTSD – the film expresses more anti-war sentiment than pro. Essentially, the subject of the film is problematic, but the film itself at least tries to be balanced. You could argue that such people should not have films made of them, but nor should any number of unheroic people. There should be room allowed for character studies of people who aren’t saints, and respect allowed for films that present their lives for the audience to draw their own judgements and conclusions.

The decision to make a biopic of a man who was, at best, complex and problematic6
The general reaction of most of the left-wing media3
The execution of the film on all technical levels9
Bradley Cooper's honest, unflinching performance9
Clint Eastwood's refusal to judge his protagonist9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • None of the female characters talk to each other
7Overall Score

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