From what I understand of real-life Chris Kyle, a film adaptation of his memoir really needed the Raging Bull treatment: a warts-and-all (mostly warts) character study that is more concerned with great cinematic storytelling than with biographical fidelity. Clint Eastwood's movie already plays extremely fast and loose with the facts, so why not commit to it fully and forget about paying tribute to the actual person? Kyle's nickname was "the Legend," after all—Eastwood and his screenwriter, Jason Hall, could hardly have had a better invitation to get creative. There are moments when American Sniper seems to be sidling toward a more unfettered mode of storytelling (the climactic sandstorm standoff with a heavily fictionalized enemy sniper, for example), but it keeps losing its nerve and retreating to the safety of convention. The neglected wife, the doomed comrade-in-arms, the end titles that put a bow on everything—we have seen these things before, and we will see them again. Based-on-truth war movies are a flat circle.
As for the film's politics, they are murky but not, as some have claimed, reprehensible. The problem is that Eastwood distances us from Kyle but does so inconsistently, so that we are never sure how strongly the film is aligning itself with the xenophobia of its characters. If we were inside Kyle's head, then the depiction of events could be read as filtered through Kyle's subjectivity; if we were divorced from his perspective entirely, then the film could be read as a dispassionate examination of the soldiering life. Eastwood straddles the line, though, in a way that makes the film seem not ambiguous but rather confused. By the standards of the war-movie genre, the depiction of Iraqi civilians is fairly nuanced; but then Eastwood and Hall throw a couple of one-dimensional Arab villains into the mix so that Kyle could have some monstrous foils against whom he could define himself as a good guy. Artistic laziness and a troubling impulse toward caricature—two sour tastes that taste sour together and go a long way toward souring a film that boasts some pretty great acting, editing, and directing.