The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Everything you need to know about the ‘American Sniper’ culture wars controversy

Bradley Cooper in a scene from “American Sniper.” (Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” — the Oscar-nominated military film that stars Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle — continues to do big business at the box office and is expected to pass the $250 million mark over Super Bowl weekend, according to industry estimates.

The R-rated biopic is on a remarkable pace as it approaches its third weekend in theaters. It also grabbed six Academy Awards nominations, including one for best picture and another for Cooper, whose performance as Chris Kyle earned him a best actor nod.

“This film was never trying to be a blockbuster, but it’s performing like one,” Rentrak analyst Paul Dergarabedian told Variety. “And there’s continuing controversy about it, which never hurts.”

On RedState, Erick Erickson noted: “The greatest thing about ‘American Sniper’ is this — its box office take shows the ninnies, for now, remain a minority.” Rush Limbaugh called the box office success “an extension of the November elections.”

The film, which tells the story of the deadliest sniper in U.S. history, has stirred old debates about the Iraq War and Kyle’s celebrated career and “unverifiable” legacy.

Here’s a look at some of what’s been said so far about the movie and the marksman, who was fatally shot in 2013 by veteran Eddie Routh.


Gary Sinise tells off Howard Dean


Michelle Obama: “This movie reflects … the complex journeys that our men and women in uniform endure.”

TV panels

Nicole Wallace, on “The View: “There’s a reason this movie is touching such a chord. I think it’s telling a truth that no one’s told. … This movie is perfection.”

Chris Kyle’s friend, on “Hannity: There is an “inherent anti-military bias in Hollywood. And I think if Hollywood could just get past that bias, you’d see more military blockbusters that celebrate American exceptionalism, selfless service, honor and integrity on the battlefield.”

Bill Maher, on “Real Time: “This one is just — American Hero. He’s a psychopath patriot and we love him.” (Warning: Some of the language in the video is NSFW.)

• Former sniper, on “Melissa Harris-Perry“: “Hollywood makes movies to make money. It’s not propaganda. … It’s [a] very touching movie to me and my family.”

• NBC News correspondent, on “Morning Joe“: “If you don’t know anything about Chris Kyle, if you don’t know this was a true story, this was a great movie.”

Cast and crew

Director Clint Eastwood: “One of my favorite war movies that I’ve been involved with is ‘Letters from Iwo Jima.’ And that was about family, about being taken away from life, being sent someplace.” (The Hollywood Reporter)

• Eastwood, continued: “In World War II, everybody just sort of went home and got over it. Now there is some effort to help people through it. In Chris Kyle’s case, no good deed went unpunished.” (THR)

Bradley Cooper on Kyle: “His sort of mission statement in life, after being honorably discharged, was to help a vet besides just saying ‘Thank you for your service,’ which is a wonderful thing to say, but maybe actually … babysit their kids or help them with their groceries, or do anything. A little gesture can go a long way. And if this movie can help do that, make people aware of the plight of the soldier, then I think he’d be happy.” (Yahoo)

Screenwriter Jason Hall: “People see the movie poster, and it’s got a guy and the American flag, and they know Clint Eastwood — the Dirty Harry guy and the Republican convention guy — directed it. So they think it’s some jingoistic thing. I would challenge that in a big way. Chris was a man who believed in something and who therefore was useful to a government that needed him to go to war. It cost him his physical health, his mental health and almost cost him his family — but Chris probably would have paid the price over and over again if he’d been asked, which is both patriotic and totally tragic.” (Time)

The reviews

The Washington Post: “That ‘American Sniper’ has been greeted with such different interpretations attests to a movie that never hews to obvious ideological lines. But the wildly divergent readings are also typical of an emerging genre of war film that ‘American Sniper’ exemplifies, one that strikes a different focus and tone than its predecessors.”

Clint Eastwood's new film "American Sniper" has become the latest battleground in the culture wars. Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg explains why its politics matter. (Video: Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

• Breitbart: “War is ugly and it’s not pretty watching our guys kick in doors. But there are bad guys behind those doors, and no matter how bad those guys might be, Eastwood makes sure the audience knows Americans don’t carry power drills or take lives out of any motive other than self-defense.”

Rolling Stone: ” ‘American Sniper’ Is Almost Too Dumb to Criticize.”

Glenn Beck: “As I sat for two hours in this darkened theater, occasionally hearing the sob of a hero’s wife, I questioned everything. This was less of a movie and more of an experience for me. Who are these men … that we send out in our name? How could we possibly think that they can come home and lead a normal life?”

Slate: “One of the most mendacious movies of 2014.”

New York Times: “But a lot of great movies, including several of Mr. Eastwood’s, arise from the simple premise of a fight to the death between good guys and bad guys. ‘American Sniper’ is not quite among them, but much of its considerable power derives from the clarity and sincerity of its bedrock convictions. Less a war movie than a western — the story of a lone gunslinger facing down his nemesis in a dusty, lawless place — it is blunt and effective, though also troubling.”

• New York Magazine: “Spouting off to an empty chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention, Clint Eastwood looked as if he were slipping into doddering dementia, but he’s shrewder and more focused than ever in his Iraq War picture American Sniper. It’s a cracker­jack piece of filmmaking, a declaration that he’s not yet ready to be classified as an Old Master, that he can out-Bigelow Kathryn Bigelow.”

Hitfix: “But speaking of ‘American Sniper’ as a film, I’m struck by how routine it is, how by the numbers and predictable. That is not a judgment of Chris Kyle the person, but rather the film that has been spun from the real person. It drives me slightly crazy in a case like this because you aren’t allowed to talk about the film without it somehow meaning something about the true story.”

Time: “In all the scrupulous fact-checking, critics can ignore their primary responsibility: analyzing what, say, American Sniper offers as a movie. Answer: a lot. It shows Eastwood, at 84, in his finest directorial effort since the 2008 Gran Torino, while painting on a much broader canvas.”

The satire

“Confused About How You’re Supposed To Feel About ‘American Sniper’? Here Are 20 Thinkpieces That Can Help You Put Things In Perspective” (Clickhole)

Related from The Washington Post

‘American Sniper’ exemplifies a new kind of war film: The professional procedural

‘American Sniper’ decried as propaganda by some, praised as veterans’ paean by others

In the latest trailer for "American Sniper," directed by Clint Eastwood and based on the autobiography of the name, Bradley Cooper plays U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who is said to have had the most confirmed kills in U.S. military history. Kyle struggled with PTSD and was killed at a gun range by a fellow veteran in February 2013. The film opens Dec. 25. (Video: Warner Bros. UK)

[This piece, originally published Jan. 26, has been updated.]