Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles - Women
Gender Roles - Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Violence Against Women
Gender Roles - Women: 1 Star
Taya plays the role of a stereotypical military wife. She tends to the children, she worries in silence, and occasionally threatens to leave her troubled marriage. While there is certainly some strength in bearing the burden of this sort of fractured family, the film does a poor job of depicting exactly the sort of fortitude is required of a military spouse. We don't see her engaged in any difficult conversations with her children while her husband is away. We don't see her dealing with poor grades or aggressive behavior at school, household repairs, broken down vehicles, or any of the myriad obstacles that threaten the peace and sanity of a military spouse. All of Taya's scenes with her children are calm and uninvolved. All we get from her is that she needs more emotional engagement from her husband - but in the end, even this limited plotline is more about Kyle than it is about Taya.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars (Spoilers)
American Sniper is a film that celebrates Chris Kyle's bravery and skill with a weapon. But it also attempts to address some of the emotional scarring that comes with PTSD. The film might have been more successful in bringing home the torment associated with war trauma if it had done more than merely scratch the surface of Kyle's condition. Throughout the film we see a number of disturbing images that would likely send even the strongest and most war-hardened men into an emotional tailspin. But we don't see many images of Kyle wrestling with the things that he's seen. We see him expressing some uncontrolled anger, clamming up, and even shutting off emotion completely, but the film never goes the final step of showing audiences that cathartic moment when he breaks down and opens up to his wife about the things that he's seen and how it's affecting him. He never explains how he's haunted by the decisions he's had to make in the name of protecting his fellow soldiers. To the contrary, Kyle's PTSD is easily cleared up by volunteering to work with other wounded vets and continuing to play the role of the hero. American Sniper doesn't make any real efforts to address the fact that even strong men have weaknesses. Chris Kyle is unassailable from beginning to end - and it is exactly this sort of showmanship that makes young men believe there is some sort of shame in addressing the fact that they hurt.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 1 Star
From the beginning of the film to the end, Taya never exhibits much self esteem. She meets Chris Kyle in a bar where she is sulking alone, practically waiting to be rescued by the perfect man. She seems a little broken and terrified, and even belittles herself for constantly picking the wrong men. Even after she and Chris are married, she remains the same empty, needy sort of woman, relying on Chris for all of her strength and sense of self-worth. At one point, she does threaten to leave him, but it's difficult to imagine what Taya would do without Chris Kyle in her life. As far as we can tell she has no work history, no volunteer history, no talents or ambitions of her own. She's a pretty woman with a nice figure and a soft heart. And unfortunately, there's not much to her to draw audiences in, other than her simple vulnerability.
Plot: 1 Star (Spoilers)
Taya's role in American Sniper is primarily to support and worry over Chris Kyle. She points out the changes that she sees in him and encourages him to get help between children and deployments. There is some suggestion that she takes steps behind the scenes to get doctors involved in Chris's condition. But none of this takes place on screen. Furthermore, the film never shows the courage that it took to make these arrangements behind her husband's back - or the fallout from doing so. Taya certainly doesn't share in any of the triumph when Chris finally does recover. She has a few impressive lines that earn our respect and prove that she's more than just a lonely housewife caught in a difficult situation, but she never crosses the line from just another supporting character into someone inspiring.
Character Development: 1 Star
Taya doesn't have much character development, either before she meets Chris or during his multiple deployments. The story focuses on Chris's missions overseas, with occasional glimpses back home at his troubled life. But there is no in-depth development of Taya's struggles at home or the steps she takes to keep herself and her children sane while Chris is away. We don't have any insight into her weak moments - when she feels like the only way to find happiness again is to leave him. Likewise, we never see those pivotal moments of strength when she is determined to stay and see her marriage through, in spite of her husband's cold and frightening behavior.
Love: 2.5 Stars
The romance between Chris and Taya is quick and underdeveloped. She latches onto him despite her fears from past relationships and quickly adopts the role of a lonely and worried military spouse. Like so many films that celebrate the heroics of a male lead, American Sniper doesn't spend much time explaining what it is that the hero loves about his leading lady. We know that he loves her, and that is generally enough to make audiences care about her and want the courageous couple to live "happily ever after." But the few flirtatious moments that Taya and Chris share before the war aren't enough to truly engage audiences in their relationship. Audiences aren't likely to give Taya many tears or concerns at all - absent their respect and admiration for Chris Kyle.
Violence Against Women: 1 Star (Spoilers)
American Sniper includes an early scene where Chris Kyle shoots and kills a child and a female insurgent. The strange part about this scene is that Chris Kyle's real life account of his first kill doesn't include killing a child - that part was added by filmmakers. It's hard to say why this was done. Perhaps they didn't feel it was shocking or disturbing enough to simply depict an American soldier killing a woman. Perhaps they felt that they had to throw a child into the mix to make audiences cringe just a bit more. This may be a statement on the way we, as Americans, value the lives of foreign women, or it may just be a broader statement on our addiction to violent images. Either way, the film doesn't spend much time mourning the fact that Kyle was forced to shoot a woman who was pushed into the fray. She's simply another casualty in the war, and rightly or wrongly, isn't given any more attention than the hundred or more male insurgents that Chris Kyle takes out.
Friendship: 1 Star
Chris Kyle has some strong friendships with his fellow Navy Seals, but the film does a poor job of showing us just how deep those friendships run. In particular, Chris's friend Mark is clearly struggling to find a sense of purpose or commitment during his last tour. When he comes to Chris for guidance and perspective, Chris dismisses him. He refuses to engage in any in-depth conversation that might have eased Mark's anxiety, and then heartlessly suggests that that anxiety is the reason he ends up killed - almost suggesting that he just wasn't strong enough to do his job. Similarly, Chris briefly connects with his younger brother Jeff as he's coming back from deployment. Chris notices how shaken and disturbed Jeff has become, broken down and beaten by the difficulty of war. Chris reacts with obvious concern, but never follows up, never reaches out, never takes any steps to ensure that his brother is okay and has the support that he needs. So while we easily believe that wartime experiences have forged powerful and unique bonds between the men who serve, we don't exactly see it on screen.
There is one heartfelt scene between Chris Kyle and another Navy Seal named Biggles. Chris visits Biggles in the hospital after he's been injured by an enemy sniper. The scene shows us, in no uncertain terms, how devoted Biggles is to Kyle, even if Kyle doesn't quite reciprocate those feelings. It's truly unfortunate that more emotion wasn't put into Chris's character, and that we're not privy to more of these unique moments between soldiers.
Chris Kyle is a Navy Seal whose expert marksmanship during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars earn him the nickname "Legend." Kyle performs multiple tours of duty overseas, engaging insurgents, performing deadly missions and saving countless lives. But the horrors of war take their toll as the deployments come and go, making it harder for Kyle to connect with his wife and children back home.
Kelly is a labor law