Bill Maher blasted Clint Eastwood's film American Sniper during the Real Time panel discussion on Friday, comparing it unfavorably to Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.
"Hurt Locker made $17 million, because it was a little ambiguous. And thoughtful," Maher said. "And this one is just 'American hero, he's a psychopath patriot and we love him.'"
Maher also criticized the subject of Eastwood's movie, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and his statements in his autobiography regarding killing Iraqi "savages."
"I dunno, [President Dwight] Eisenhower once said, 'I hate wars as only a soldier who has lived it can.' I just don't see this guy in the same league as Eisenhower, I'm sorry," Maher said. "And if you're a Christian -- I know this is a Christian country -- 'I hate the damn savages, I don't give a f*ck what happens to them' doesn't seem like a Christian thing to say."
Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens pushed back against Maher, saying he could not believe that was the host's impression of the film.
"What I saw was a movie that treats what veterans and soldiers go through in a way that was subtle," Stephens said. "It was not just about war -- it was about PTSD, it was about what the wives of soldiers go through."
Maher's fellow comedian, Bill Burr, also took issue with his viewpoint on Kyle.
"You can't sum up a man by one quote taken out of context," Burr said. "You don't know how he said that. I think if you're fighting a war, you say a lot of f*cked up sh*t in the middle of it."
"That was after the war," Maher countered, adding, "I'm just saying, the idea that Americans can not see any ambiguity, that somebody has to be either 'pure hero' or 'pure traitor,' is ridiculous."
Washington Post political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson said that one reason American Sniper has grossed more than $90 million at the box office was that it fell in line with a tradition of Americans searching for the next "totemic war hero," with Kyle fitting in alongside the likes of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.
"At some point, Americans want to do some sort of patriotic act," Henderson said. "I think at some point, for people who went to go see this movie, it was sort of a patriotic act. People wanted to feel good about this war. You look at the polls, most Americans think this war wasn't worth fighting."
Former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean, however, argued that there was a political element to the film's success.
"I bet you if you look at a cross-section of the Tea Party and people who go see this movie, there's a lot of intersection," Dean argued.
Watch the discussion, as posted online on Friday, below.