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Clint and Bradley have a Winner in AMERICAN SNIPER

No Spoilers


Clint Eastwood’s latest film, American Sniper, has been causing a lot of controversy, mostly about snipers, in general, and about the protagonist, Chris Kyle, in particular. Some reviewers are complaining that Eastwood mixed up the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, that he mistakenly identified America’s getting involved in a war with Iraq due to the 9-11 attacks, and that the film is causing anti-Muslim sentiment around the world. Some reviewers compare protagonist Chris Kyle’s interviews and book with his portrayal in the film, which are, apparently, not similar, and those people are complaining that the film version of Kyle isn’t the one they saw in the book or in television interviews.

I’m not saying that it’s a perfect movie. Overall, however, American Sniper is a very intense and emotional action film, and I can see why crowds are filling up the theaters to see it.

Based on the autobiography by sniper Chris Kyle himself, the screenplay was written by Jason Hall, who alternated “War” — when Kyle (a bulked up but not necessarily more muscular Bradley Cooper) was in Iraq — with “Peace” — when he was home with his wife (Sienna Miller) and children. Like Tolstoy’s famous novel, War and Peace, the War parts of American Sniper are very intense, while the Peace parts are so slow they make you keep looking at your watch, hoping Kyle will go back to the war.

It’s a relatively patriotic movie, portraying Kyle as a hero, at least to his fellow marines (he himself is a Navy SEAL), whom he protects as they’re evacuating Iraqi neighborhoods. Kyle keeps watch for enemy bombers and snipers by positioning himself on a rooftop in whatever vicinity the marines are working. If he suspects that someone is a danger to the marines — whether that person be a man, woman, or child — Kyle is supposed to take that person out.

Many veterans also view Kyle as a hero in this film. I didn’t. I saw his flaws, and found them interesting. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of his psychological defense mechanisms with his role as a sniper in the war. We only got a hint of his psychological defense mechanisms near the end of the film, with the psychologist/psychiatrist, in a very brief scene. Adding more of Kyle’s character would have made the film more interesting for me, but it may have also turned it into an art film instead of the patriotic, action film that it is, making the big bucks. To date, American Sniper has made more than $200M at the box office.

Yes, American Sniper does simplify the Iraqi War into one that seems to be directly caused by the terrorist attacks of 9-11, which is not why America went to war with Iraq but why it ostensibly went to war with Afghanistan, looking for Osama Bin Laden. The movie also simplifies the Iraqi War into a battle between Us — the good guys, represented by Kyle (Cooper) — and Them — the one-dimensional bad guys, represented ultimately by an Iraqi sniper named Mustafa. That being said, the War parts of the film, “subtitled” Tour One, Tour Two, etc. are very intense and had the audience at the showing we attended hushed in silence, holding its collective breath.

The movie begins with a very psychologically complex scene (a portion of which you can see in the official trailer below), followed immediately by approximately 45 minutes of personal relationship development between Kyle and his wife, and boot camp training for Kyle. No offense to Clint, whom I respect as an actor and a director, but Gunnery Seargeant R. Lee Ermey — originally hired as a professional consultant on Full Metal Jacket — did it more brilliantly, improv and ad-lib, in the Kubrick film.

Nothing new was added in the boot camp training scenes of  American Sniper, and, in fact, much of the dialogue was difficult to understand.

Any time Kyle was home, with his wife and family, there were lots of clichés, including the wife whining a lot about how she and “the kids”needed him, asking him what he was “doing over there,” etc. But I did mention earlier that the “Peace” parts of this film, meaning the parts not directly concerning the War, were not very exciting or interesting. I understand that you cannot have a film that is non-stop action and ferocity, but plenty of war films have sustained intensity without slowing down the “action” and while keeping the characters In Country. Apocalypse Now and Platoon are two that do this successfully.

Those minor flaws aside, I’m guessing that most viewers find American Sniper as intense — in the “War” parts — as my boyfriend and I did. They are well-made and, except for the one poor CGI scene with a bullet that is not spinning through the air, they leave the viewers breathless.

Clint took a hint from Oliver Stone’s final battle scene in Platoon, which some viewers complained was difficult to follow, and made the ultimate battle scene in American Sniper also intentionally difficult to follow or even see well. It was stupendous cinematic symbolism for what soldiers must experience in war, though I assume no film could ever give viewers a taste of the heart-stopping fear, adrenaline rush, and overwhelming confusion that is experienced by combatants in real war.

Bradley Cooper did an excellent job as sniper Chris Kyle, given the material he had to work with, and Eastwood did a fine job directing. After all, this is clearly a patriotic action film, not an art film (despite the one allusion to Keyser Söze from screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie’s and director Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects — and I’m not sure how many of the audience members got that allusion since there was no response, whereas, in the final battle scene, at the “appropriate” moment, the audience applauded and many viewers cheered).

Is American Sniper worth seeing? Most definitely. And see it on the big screen. But get there early to get good seats. We were there 25 minutes before the start of a late afternoon matinee showing and were almost in the front row.

Will American Sniper win any of the Oscars for which it is nominated? Not likely. It’s an action film, and it’s not up for CGI effects, since there are virtually none. It’s not like Eastwood’s Unforgiven, which was not only a ground-breaking Western, but a film that made sophisticated commentary on the Western film genre even as it was defying yet fulfilling audience expectations.

Should the real-life Mrs. Kyle stop going around giving interviews saying that she “approves” of the film “especially given how Chris Kyle died”? Yes, yes, she should. I would never have known that sniper Chris Kyle had died if she hadn’t been saying it in interviews. (I’m still not sure exactly how he died since the film doesn’t show it or reveal the circumstances of his death: it simply states the fact that he died.)

And, frankly, I don’t care if Mrs. Kyle approves of the film. She signed the film option and made plenty of money for her husband’s story, so it’s irrelevant whether or not she likes what Eastwood did with the material. Besides, I’m guessing she likes it because too much of the film concentrates on her, including a really poorly done phone conversation during the middle of a battle scene.

Should people like documentary film-maker Michael Moore keep their mouths shut about snipers and war? Yes, they should. Snipers and war have been around for ages. Snipers are not cowards: they are highly trained, proficient gunmen, and no one should insult our veterans, not matter what their roles were during their respective wars. Especially not people who have never been in war and have absolutely no idea how they themselves would behave under similar circumstances. They should keep any insults about snipers and veterans to themselves. If they post them on The Twitter, as Moore did, they’re liable to get this kind of response (and this is one of the “kinder” ones).

American Sniper is an openly patriotic action film about one sniper and his role in the Iraqi War, based on his own autobiography. Nevertheless, viewers are obviously enjoying it, and, despite its minor flaws, I highly recommend it. American Sniper may not win any awards, but it’s winning the hearts of its audience.

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