American Sniper and America

Why is American Sniper such a box office success?

Nearly two weeks after it was released, I went to see the movie American Sniper. For those of you who have been off the grid, the film is based on the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, by Chris Kyle. The title sums up much of the book.

From where I sat in the theater it was clear the movie was still doing well at the box office when I saw it. As I left the cinema I was thinking of other recent movies about our wars in the Middle East. Most that I remembered had not done well. That led me to the question, what is different about American Sniper that makes it such a box office success?

While the movie seems to resonate with many Americans, Bill Maher of HBO’s Real Time, called Chris Kyle a “psychopath patriot,” and NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin described Kyle’s work as a military sniper as “killing sprees.” Matt Taibbi writing in Rolling Stone called the movie, “Almost Too Dumb to Criticize.” Taibbi goes on to say, “It's the fact that the movie is popular, and actually makes sense to so many people, that's the problem.”

American Sniper, Lone Survivor, and Zero Dark Thirty all depict the American military in a favorable light fighting against terrorism and related evil. The government is either not depicted or shown to have similar goals.

In contrast, The Green Zone portrays an inept or corrupt American leadership and a rogue military. Michael Moore called The Green Zone, “the most honest film about the Iraq War made by Hollywood.”

The Hurt Locker took a more nuanced view of the military and their mission in the Middle East but, as the list here shows, that moral ambiguity didn’t resonate with American moviegoers. However, the Hollywood elite loved it, giving it the Academy Award for best picture in 2009. 

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Personally, I prefer stories that portray the United States and its military as a force for good in the world. I realize that we’ve not always succeeded, but good should always be our goal. On the other hand, liberals seem to view the worst in our country as the norm. However, in World War II, the Korean War, and during the Cold War it was the America military that turned the tide against fascism, communism and oppression.

American Sniper depicts a good man trying to protect his fellow soldiers and innocent civilians during an ugly conflict. That is what I expect from the military and, apparently, many Americans share that opinion.