I worried that my visceral opposition to the Iraq War would color my appreciation of a war film from Clint Eastwood, Republican spokesman and director of Gran Torino. I needn’t have. Yes, the movie glorified Chris Kyle, “the Legend,” credited with killing 160 of the enemy, and we certainly rooted for him to accomplish his mission, survive four tours of duty and make up with his beautiful wife (Sienna Miller). And certain of the enemy were made to look pretty evil – using a drill on a young boy, collecting body parts in a meat locker. But the question of why U.S. troops were there in the first place was left wide open: Kyle’s reasons – revenge for 9/11 and preventing the war’s coming to San Diego – were obviously spurious. The disillusionment of others, including Kyles’ brother, allowed the viewer to think about this. Then there was the nature of the American operation: rather than defending against attack, our troops were going door-to-door, knocking down barriers, terrorizing whomever they found, often women and children who had done no wrong. It hardly seemed unreasonable that some Iraqis, and even a Syrian, would be trying to defend their homes and their country against alien invaders.
In this confused situation, Kyle was a beacon of certainty, but only because, as remarkably portrayed by Bradley Cooper, he wasn’t too smart. And that, more than his skill as a marksman, is what made the movie so engrossing. How did he handle the pressure; how did it affect his relationship with his wife; how did he recover his equilibrium when his war was over? It was this intense study of a personality that fascinated and carried the story. One last thought: I wonder if the characterization would have been the same, or, indeed, if the movie would have been made, had Kyle not been murdered after he wrote his book?