An American hero?

“American Sniper” is a film built on parallels, which work by making the viewer draw connections between scenes. Perhaps the most alarming parallel comes right at the beginning of the movie when newly-deployed Navy Seal Chris Kyle is about to shoot a young Muslim boy.

He lines up the shot. His finger rests on the trigger, and just as he pulls it, the scene cuts to a younger Kyle—perhaps the same age as the Muslim boy—shooting a deer. You can’t help but draw a connection. To Kyle, shooting these people is like shooting animals for game. He argues that it is for his country, for his people, that he can do this. But does that justify his actions?

The film seems to think so, but it is ultimately up to the viewers to decide on their own.

For me, the link between the boy and the deer was uncomfortable. And it wasn’t the only one. It’s those connections (sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle) like Kyle’s rising blood pressure and the rising tension of each tour that make the film unsettling.

I can’t say I liked it, but I also can’t say I didn’t like it. An effective film, I suppose, should make you feel something. “American Sniper” makes me feel kind of hollow. I feel like I’m not quite sure what side to take, but I do think you should watch it. This film is important. It questions what it means to be an American hero and how far we should go in defending our actions. Kyle had 160 kills, and each one weighs heavily on screen but none more so than that first kill of the boy. Ultimately, how you see that scene will determine how you feel about the movie and the actions of the protagonist.

Is he an American hero? Or should we rethink our definition?

Politics aside, this is still a pretty good film. It’s visually very sharp, and the background score, in particular, is gripping. It’s almost “Inception”-like with a brief period of quiet before a loud woomp. Bradley Cooper stands out as he completely embodies Kyle. You can’t help but feel his disorientation when he comes back to the U.S. Clint Eastwood’s directing draws you up close, and there’s a sense of rawness to the film, especially in kill scenes. Extreme close-ups build the tension and allow Cooper to shine with the small little ticks he gives the character. It’s effective, to say the least, and it adds to the “pro-warrior” quality of the film.

If you liked the material of films like “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” or the quality of Eastwood’s other films, such as “Gran Torino,” this film is for you. Or maybe, like me, you just wanted to ask yourself some uncomfortable questions that probably need to be asked.

Rating: ★★★☆☆