American Sniper and The Hurt Locker Movies Analysis

Topics: Movie Review

American Sniper and The Hurt Locker are American war films. Despite this they are both different in their own way, but both tell the struggle of an American soldier.

American Sniper

American Sniper is a biographical drama war film that was produced by Clint Eastwood in 2014. The film was written by Jason Hall and it is based on the memoir American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S Military History written by Chris Kyle. The film stars Bradley Copper as Chris Kyle and Sienna Miller as his wife Taya, with Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Kevin Lacz, Navid Negahban, and Keir O’Donnell.

The film tells the story of a Navy Seal who completed four tours in Iraq from 1999–2009. It describes Kyle’s upbringing in Texas, his Navy Seal training, and Kyles combat experiences in Iraq. The film The Hurt Locker is an American war thriller directed by Kathyrn Bigelow and written by reporter Mark Boal; the film heavily relies on his chronicles.

The film stars Jeremy Renner as Sergeant First Class William James, along with Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Christian Camargo, Guy Pierce, David Morse, and Ralph Fiennes. It follows an Iraqi War Explosive Ordnance Disposal (OED) team who become the targets of insurgents, and shows the members psychological reactions to the stress of combat, which can be intolerable to some and addictive to others.

American Sniper follows the life of Kyle who grew up in Texas. At a young age he is taught by his father how to shoot a rifle while hunting deer.

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Years later, Kyle now a ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy. He and his brother are at a rodeo competition where Kyle is competing, he goes home early after winning the competition to find his girlfriend cheating on him with another man. While he and his brother Jeff mull over the events that occurred that night he sees the news coverage of the U.S embassy bombings that occurred in 1998; and decides to enlist in the Navy. While at a bar he meets Taya who he later marries.

After the 9/11 attacks he is sent on his first tour to Iraq. Kyle’s first kills are a woman and a boy who attempt to attack marines with a grenade. He is visibly disturbed by the experience but later earns the nickname “the legend” for his many kills; he had 255 kills from four tours in the Iraq war. Of those 255; 160 were confirmed by the Department of Defense making him the most lethal sniper in US history. Kyle is assigned to hunt for the al- Qaeda leader, he with the help of some troops interrogates a family. The father tells him that he can lead him and a group of Navy SEALs to “The Butcher”, who is second in command of al Qaeda; but his plan goes bad leading to the father and son getting killed as he is pinned down by another Sniper named Mustafa who was an Olympic medalist from Syria.

Kyle returns home to his wife Taya who is expecting their first son. Kyle struggles to adapt back to civilian life as he remembers his experiences of war and begins to show signs of PTSD. His behavior causes concern with Taya as she wishes he was more present and focused on his family. Soon after Kyle leaves for a second tour. Here he is promoted to Chief Petty Officer. He decides that there needs to be a special group of individuals that are focused on capturing or killing “The Butcher”. This team of special Seals are involved in a shootout where they kill “The Butcher”. Kyle returns home for a second time to Taya, his son, and a newborn baby girl. Kyle is still not fully 100% present at home causing a bigger strain in his marriage with Taya.

On his third tour, his Navy Seal team is involved in an incident with Mustafa where two members are killed: Biggles and Marc Lee. He returns home to be with his family, decides to return for a fourth tour. His wife tells him that she may not be there when he returns home. On this tour his assignment is to kill Mustafa; the leader of al Qaeda. His snipper team and Kyle are placed inside enemy territory to complete the assignment. While at this spot Kyle spots Mustafa and decides to take him out. The shot is a long distance away at 2,100 yards and this exposes his team members to armed insurgents. When Kyle realizes that they are low on ammunition he decides to call Taya to tell her that he is ready to come home. Kyle is injured during the crossfire as his team uses a sandstorm to escape and is almost left behind. Kyle makes it back home, but he is still unable to adjust back to civilian life as he still struggles with PTSD. During a session with a psychiatrist he is asked if he is still hunted by the choices that he made during his military career, he responds with all the guys he couldn’t save is what haunts him. He is advised to help the veterans located at the VA hospital, this seems to help Kyle adjust back to civilian life. In 2013, he is shot and killed by a fellow veteran he was trying to help at a veteran shooting range.

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker tells the story of a U.S Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit in the Iraqi war. During a mission in Baghda Staff Sergeant Matthew Thompson is killed by an improvised explosive device. Days later Sergeant First Class James joins Sergeant J.T Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge team as their new leader and replaces Thompson. Tensions rise among the team as both Eldridge and Sanborn think that James is reckless and takes unnecessary risks during disposal missions. The team is assigned to dispose and destroy explosives at a detonation site. Having forgotten his gloves James returns to pick them up as his fellow team members watch from afar. Sanborn pointing his weapon at him tells Specialist Eldridge that they can just kill him by triggering the explosives and pass it off as an accident. This makes Eldridge uncomfortable and the tension among the team continue to rise.

While returning to camp Victory, the team encounters armed members in traditional Arab garments and casual attire standing next to a Ford vehicle that has a flat tire. The EOD team and this unknown enemy reveal to be private military contractors and British mercenaries, it appears that they have captured two prisoners that are part of the Iraqi most wanted list. The group is attacked, and the prisoners use this to escape, they are killed in the process by the leader of the mercenaries. The EOD team kills all the enemies after a standoff.

During a warehouse raid, James discovers the body of a young boy that has been implanted with explosive devices. He believes that the boy is “Beckham”, a boy who sells DVDs to James. James goes out looking for those responsible while the others try to evacuate the town. Lieutenant Colonel John Cambridge who is the camps physiatrist is out with them when he is suddenly killed by an explosion.

Later the team is called to disarm a petrol tanker, James takes this chance to look for the insurgents thinking that they are close by. His team members protest but James persists; Sanborn and Eldridge follow. The team members get separated and Eldridge is shot and captured by insurgents. James and Sanborn rescue the injured team member and take him back to base. The next day James is approached by Beckham, who he thought was dead; but instead of being friendly with James he is silent and distant. As Eldridge is air lifted away he angrily blames James for his injury.

Two days before the end of their rotation James and Sanborn’s unit is called for one last mission. Upon arrival they find that an Iraqi civilian has been strapped to a vest filled with bombs. James tries to cut the locks on the vest before time runs out but is unsuccessful; he abandons the man who is killed by the explosion. Sanborn distraught by the event that occur breaks down and tells James that he wants to return home and have a son. After their rotation ends, James returns home to his son and ex-wife. He seems bored with his civilian life back at home. While with his infant son, he confesses that there is only one thing he loves, the scene cuts to him joining Delta Company on another tour. The film ends.

Comparison of Movies

A connection between both movies are the characteristics of Chris Kyle and William James. Karl Marlantes author of What Makes a War Hero and What It Is Like to Go to War makes the distinction that “people who are heroes go beyond what is expected of them, risking their life and limb to benefit others” (“War Hero”). He also defines a warrior as “a person who is willing to risk his life, who is willing to inflict violence on others and who chooses a side in a fight, but that person may never have to perform an act of bravery” (“War Hero”). Chris Kyle is a hero due to his 255 kills in Iraq that helped save many lives. Eventually just having Kyle on their side gave the soldiers the “protection” that they needed. Clint shows this in a conversation between Kyle and another Seals member:

“I tell you something. These Marines keep rushing in like they’re doing, they’re going to get their asses shot off. Well, they’re Marines. They don’t get the training we do. Half these guys were civilians six months ago…Look, all these guys, they know your name. They feel invincible with you up there” (Eastwood 2014).

According to Marlantes, Kyle has the characteristics of both a hero and a warrior because he is willing and puts himself in harm’s way, and by saving these individuals he proves is dads point of him being a sheepdog, the protector of the “weak”. Kyle may not see it like that rather he sees it as his job but I do believe that being labeled a sheepdog at a young age defined who he became. In the first scene of American Sniper, Kyle must decide between killing a mother and a child to save many marines or to let the boy live and risk the lives of those on the ground. He chooses to kill both, after the incident he feels distress but knows that he had to do it. Karl Marlantes writes in his book What It Is Like to Go to War that when you kill someone in war or combat you must think of it as a mercy killing and not as you just killing another individual, “the ideal response to killing in war should be one similar to a mercy killing, sadness mingled with respect” (Like to go to War, 42). This event in the movie demonstrates that Kyle will do what he needs to do to keep those that need him safe whether it caused conflict within him.

William James is shown as the total opposite of Kyle. He does not follow protocol and has an aggressive nature to him. Unlike Thompson, James does not get along with his team members and doesn’t communicate with them. During the first mission Sanborn and Eldridge expect James to use a robot to disarm the bomb no he instead walks in to disarm it with no real protection for except a smoky distraction he uses to hide under blocking his location to any insurgents and his team members. The soldiers that are part of his unit find his behavior reckless and dangerous because it can cost them their lives. J.T Sanborn says “you realize every time you suit up, its life or death. But you realize every time we go out, it’s life or death” (Bigelow, 2008). Sanborn seems to be the most crucial of James that he ponders about killing James at a detonation site while James grabs his gloves. Something that I cannot understand is why James isn’t seen like a hero among his unit and camp, during a conversation with Colonel Reed he is asked how many bombs he has disarmed James says, “Eight hundred seventy-three, sir” (Bigelow 2009). His unit may not see that James pays an important role of keeping others save underneath his reckless approach when navigating a war zone but by disarming those many he has saved many fellow soldiers. The conversion with Colonel Reed then asks how he does it; James says, “the way you don’t die” (Bigelow 2009). Malantes mentions in his book that “the time for debilitating fear is before and after the mission” (Like to Go to War, 38). James is doing a dangerous job. He is putting his life on the line to also keep those around him safe except that his job has higher risks, one wrong move he is dead. I can only imagine what James feels and what is going through his head when he is disarming the IEDs. James fits both the hero and warrior description because of what he does to disarm the IEDs found. Despite both doing acts of bravery only one is a hero while the other gets overlooked for his effort.

An additional similarity between the films is the addiction to war. You compare war to normal human addictions, these can be anything from gambling away your money to eating food, drinking alcohol, ectara. When you stop a habit, or you are taken out of the environment it causes your body anxiety and stress because that’s what your body knows. It knows how to react because it is familiar to your body. If you allow normal individuals to fall back into that habit or environment, they will likely not do well but if you put war individuals back into an environment that they know, they will thrive depending on the individual of course. The Hurt Locker the opening quote is “the rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug “(Bigelow 2009). James back at home is trying to adapt back to civilian life but he can’t because he feels like something is missing. While he is spending time with his son he says the following,

“You love playing with that. You love playing with all your stuffed animals. You love your mommy, your daddy, your nature pajamas. You love everything, don’t ya? Yeah. But you know what, buddy? As you get older… some of the things that you love might not seem so special anymore, you know? Like your Jack-in-a-Box. Maybe you’ll realize it’s just a piece of tin and a stuffed animal, but the older you get, the fewer things you really love, and by the time you get to my age, maybe it’s only one or two things. With me, I think it’s one” (Bigelow, 2008).

This hinted that James only loves war and this may just be because he only feels something while he is out disarming explosives as the film ends with him starting his first day of his 365-day rotation. In American Sniper war isn’t described as an addiction, but I believe that Kyle couldn’t function in normal civilian life. He was always on edge while he was home with his family but while he was back in Iraq he thrived in that environment especially after acclimatizing to war. Taya Chris’s wife tell him,” You don’t know when to quit! You did your part! We sacrificed enough! You let somebody else go! somebody else go?” (Eastwood 2014). Addiction has different meanings for everyone but I do believe that these to individuals were hooked on war one because it was the only thing he “loved” and the other because it was made him feel like he was protecting the weak.

Both directors of American Sniper and The Hurt Locker show war differently and represent different heroes. Clint Eastwood portrays war as constant alertness, “Growing up in Oregon we had this electric fence around our property. Us kids’d grab on to it to see who could hold on the longest. War feels kinda like that. Puts lightening in your bones, makes it hard to hold on to anything else” (Eastwood, 2014). Eastwood has more action in his film, especially towards the end when they are being under attack by insurgents. Hurt Locker tells the story of these unknown heroes who perform the riskiest job because the margin of error is zero. It’s almost a thankless job. In Kathryn Bigelow’s film despite it being a thriller it seemed more casual. By casual I mean as causal as it can be at war, there isn’t many combat scenes with exceptions of a few. She rather creates tension when James and his team are disarming IEDs. She portrayed what I think an EOD unit would do routinely. Despite her film being thriller the most thrilling scene was when James disarmed one IED and then found multiple more that were connected to them. I think she did a great job portraying that feeling of “oh f*ck’ as James realizes that he can die disarming them. Despite these differences both Eastwood and Bigelow portray the people of Iraq as the enemy. They are show as being on the phone, videotaping, looking from their balcony, peeping through a crack, just acting suspicious. Even when you thought that an Iraqi was going to be helpful they wanted something in exchange. For instance in American Sniper the older gentlemen that offered to help Kyle and his team asks for money in exchange. In The Hurt Locker, “Beckham” the boy that befriends James early I’m the movie by the end is shown as distant and quite. Bigelow, makes us assume that even though he’s a kid he can still be a potential danger to US soldiers.

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American Sniper and The Hurt Locker Movies Analysis. (2022, Jan 19). Retrieved from

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