American Sniper was, I think, part of the culture war. But it was a secret part of the culture war, a one-sided, asymmetrical battle in the culture war. What I mean by this is that a lot of conservatives—the folks who turned Chris Kyle’s autobiography into a massive, 1.6-million-copy selling hit—made a point of going to see this film, in part to send a message that they will support a movie that supports their values.
But this semi-planned message-sending flew entirely under the radar, meaning there was no opportunity for a fight to break out before the film went wide. Instead of weeks of arguments going something like “ZOMG this film is evil and icky/ZOMG this film is the greatest piece of moviemaking ever” there was … nothing. A relative calm. Indeed, before the ideologues jumped into the mix, a number of critics were arguing that American Sniper is actually an anti-war film.* Then the Oscar nominations were announced and American Sniper‘s surprise haul upped anticipation among those interested in the film as a film, as opposed to an ideological object.
What I’m saying, or at least trying to say, is that American Sniper is that rare piece of art that benefitted from the culture war without being dinged by it, at least for a weekend.