We are living through another dramatic moment in the complex relationship of war and cinema. This time, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is the movie at issue. It has been nominated for six Academy Awards and praised as an anti-war movie, but has also been attacked for glorifying combat and misrepresenting the American campaign in Iraq.
This controversy is nothing new in film history.
War and cinema have been both allies and enemies at times. And illuminating this tangled past can, in fact, help us to understand the backstory of the accusations and defenses that swirl around American Sniper.
For generations, provocative questions have been raised about war films.
Can a war movie be anti-war in sentiment? Who gets to make combat films, and are veterans the only ones who can speak to the truths about war? Combat films almost always rotate around a small group of men who are on a mission, led usually by one individual whose point of view predominates. What does this individual — his military role and personality — tell us about the period in which the film was made?
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