American Sniper is a bona fide cultural phenomenon.
The war drama, which racked up a surprising 6 Oscar nominations—including Best Picture—collected a massive $90.2 million in its opening weekend to set a record for January. Its nearest competition was James Cameron’s Avatar, which grossed $68.5 million in its first January frame on its way to $760 million domestic and close to $2.8 billion worldwide.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film tells the real-life tale of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. Nicknamed “Legend,” the Navy SEAL served four tours in the Iraq War, received several commendations for valor, and racked up 160 confirmed kills—though he later claimed the actual number was 255. Eastwood’s film cuts back and forth between Kyle’s time in the field and his home life with wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and their two children. Ultimately, Kyle was gunned down at a shooting range in his native Texas by Eddie Ray Routh, a Marine veteran allegedly suffering from PTSD.
Unlike other Hollywood films that covered the Iraq War, e.g. Green Zone, The Hurt Locker, The Lucky Ones, The Messenger, Stop-Loss, etc., American Sniper has already proven to be a box office hit, eclipsing its $60 million budget in its first three days of release. However, the film has also divided audiences along political lines.
One of the first celebrities to show their support for the film was the uber-liberal Jane Fonda, who tweeted the following:
Fonda, of course, attracted the ire of many Americans when she took a trip to North Vietnam in 1972 and posed for several photos with NVA troops, earning her the nickname “Hanoi Jane.” She later starred in the Oscar-winning Vietnam War drama Coming Home, about a ménage-a-trois involving Vietnam War veterans suffering from PTSD. This past weekend, she apologized for her “Hanoi Jane” days, calling her trip a “huge mistake.”
While Fonda supported the film and its sympathy for PTSD-suffering military vets, other celebrities homed in on the film’s perceived jingoistic, pro-war message. Seth Rogen, whose recent film The Interview attracted the ire of North Korean despot Kim Jong Un, tweeted:
The film Rogen is referring to is Stolz der Nation (Nation’s Pride), a Nazi propaganda film in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds starring Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl)—a German sniper reenacting a “heroic” episode in which he picked off over 200 Allied soldiers from a clock tower. Here, Rogen is essentially comparing American Sniper to a faux Nazi propaganda flick.
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore took Rogen’s criticisms one step further. The director, who was famously booed when he denounced the Iraq War and then-President George W. Bush in his 2003 Oscar acceptance speech, claimed that snipers like Kyle were “cowards” and “aren’t heroes”:
Moore’s tweet attracted the ire of former U.S. representative Newt Gingrich and actor Rob Lowe, who voiced their disapproval:
Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden reportedly teared up at the end of American Sniper during the movie’s Washington D.C. premiere, and its Oscar-nominated star, Bradley Cooper, addressed its supposed political leanings in an interview with The Daily Beast.
“For me, and for Clint, this movie was always a character study about what the plight is for a soldier,” said Cooper. “The guy that I got to know, through all the source material that I read and watched, and home videos—hours and hours—I never saw anything like that. But I can’t control how people are gonna use this movie as a tool, or what they pick and choose whatever they want. But it would be short-changing, I think. If it’s not this movie, I hope to god another movie will come out where it will shed light on the fact of what servicemen and women have to go through, and that we need to pay attention to our vets. It doesn’t go any farther than that. It’s not a political discussion about war, even…It’s a discussion about the reality. And the reality is that people are coming home, and we have to take care of them.”