The elusive politics of "American Sniper"

This reading of the movie isn’t going to reassure Maass. Instead of bringing in Iraqi perspectives, it treats their country as though it’s the source of an alien virus. But it also shows the trouble with readings that throw around phrases like “enthusiastic support for American empire” (that’s Rory Fanning in Jacobin) or “a Republican platform movie” (David Edelstein in New York). American Sniper is a war-weary movie. It treats the members of the American military with respect and sympathy, but it is very much a product of a time when a majority of Americans think even the Afghan war wasn’t worth fighting.

A few years ago, Clint Eastwood balanced a movie showing the American perspective on the Battle of Iwo Jima with another picture presenting the Japanese point of view. I don’t expect him to do that again with Iraq. But if the viewer wants to create another double feature, there is one Eastwood movie that would make an interesting companion-piece to American Sniper.

It’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, a western released just a year after the fall of Saigon, and it shows us whites and Indians building a little community together, out on the frontier, trying to escape the long arm of the authorities. Its hero, Josey Wales, is a veteran—he fought for the South in the Civil War—and now he’s a wanted man. In the film’s final exchange, a government man named Fletcher encounters Wales, who’s now calling himself Wilson. Fletcher pretends not to recognize him, and he says he’s going to go look for Wales in Mexico.