How American Sniper Lets Veterans Down
I enjoyed "American Sniper" way more than I expected to. Going in I was expecting something along the lines of the hero worship of "Lone Survivor" but what I got was a very well acted character piece with some phenomenal action set-pieces. Yet, for all of its strong performances and epic battle scenes, the film completely misses its chance to be something extraordinary by failing to support the very veterans it seems to praise.
While there's some murkiness around the true "legend" status of Chris Kyle, there is no doubt that he was a fearless warrior when his country needed him the most. In the film, I was put-off by his relentless labeling of the enemy as "savages," but was extremely impressed with how director Clint Eastwood portrayed Kyle's relentless sense of duty to country and support of his brothers in arms. I was also moved by the scenes of Kyle interacting with physically wounded veterans at home, something I admire Kyle for more than his record of confirmed kills. Even now after his death Kyle's foundation lives on in helping veteran's get adjusted to life after deployment. It's tragic then that for someone like Kyle who dedicated his life to others that the people who told his story on film don't seem to share his values when it comes to veterans.
It ultimately comes down to the end of the film. Chris, seemingly adjusted back to life stateside, says goodbye to his family and gets in his truck with Eddie Ray Routh (you never learn his name in the movie), a former marine suffering from PTSD. The way Eastwood shoots this scene makes Routh appear like some kind of psycho villain, not someone suffering. Kyle's wife Taya (Sienna Miller) watches hesitantly as Kyle interacts with Routh, who is portrayed as hyper skinny, dark eyed, and intensely brooding - it's an image that carries so much judgement and no balance - something the rest of the film does so well. By portraying him as some kind of zombie who viewers know is going to kill the hero - Eastwood seemingly is lumping veteran's into two buckets - the tough heroes who can deal with PTSD like Kyle and the dangerous psychos who can't.
With over 1,000 PTSD cases being diagnosed a week and too many tragic instances of violent acts committed by veterans, the filmmaker's failing at addressing this issue is a disservice to the brave veterans who are struggling with mental health each day. Not every veteran's story ends up on the silver screen, but every veteran's struggles both stateside and in combat deserve more attention. "American Sniper" had that opportunity to ignite the conversation, and failed, and that is a great disservice to veterans everywhere.