An American Tragedy

American Sniper has generated more commentary, both scathingly critical and laudatory, than any film in recent memory.  The story of “America’s deadliest sniper,” Texas-born and -bred Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (credited with more than 160 “confirmed” kills), himself shot down in 2013 by a disturbed war veteran he was trying to help, has become a social litmus test, part of the identity-driven politics of a polarized, fragmenting country.  But both the “Blue State” liberals who hate the movie, and the film’s fervent “Red State” supporters who believe American Sniper is what the “libtards” say it is—a pro-Iraq-war propaganda film—are wrong.

At 84, the film’s director, Clint Eastwood, is focusing on the nature of the man of action he has portrayed so many times on film, both celebrating his prowess and courage and examining with a critical eye the steely determination, lack of reflection, and unalloyed certainty that can be both virtues and flaws in such a man.  (Some would say he has covered this ground before, dating to his collaboration with mentor Don Siegel on Dirty Harry in 1971, another film that became a sociopolitical litmus test in the period following the turbulent 1960’s.)  Eastwood closely examines that duality in American Sniper.  On another level, American Sniper...

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