I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

American Sniper

tn_americansniperAMERICAN SNIPER is a pretty good movie. I wouldn’t rank it too high in the pantheon of Clint Eastwood directorial works, and it’s definitely not one of the all time great war movies, or even the best movie about the Iraq war. It has some overlap with THE HURT LOCKER without being as effective, in my opinion, either as a thriller or as a character study. And obviously we gotta deduct points for it not being a story about a very old sniper played by Clint. But it’s a very good performance by Bradley Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN), it looks into an interesting world (that of the Navy SEAL sniper), it has several tense battle sequences, and it speaks about the experiences of soldiers with some of the quiet simplicity and understatedness I appreciate in an Eastwood picture. That last part is causing a problem.

In many ways it feels different from the rest of Clint’s filmography, but it returns him to one of his favorite themes: the man who has lived a life of violence having a hard time doing something else. Instead of an old outlaw it’s “most lethal sniper in U.S. military history” Chris Kyle (played by Cooper with some extra muscle, facial scruff and Texan drawl), who goes through four tours of duty in Iraq, more than his share, but every time he tries to live a peaceful life with his family he starts itching to be back in combat. It also reminds me a little bit of Clint’s movie J. EDGAR, another biopic of an extreme character that refuses to condemn him. It just presents him, tries to give him a fair shake, shows him as a human, for better or worse.

With most of Clint’s directing-not-acting movies these days (JERSEY BOYS, HEREAFTER, CHANGELING, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, etc.) it’s the same routine: a bunch of people say they suck, I see them and like them, but don’t really know many people who bothered to see them, and the world moves on. Even when he does what seems like a crowd-pleasing awards-bait type movie, like INVICTUS, the academies and what not don’t give much of a shit, and Clint doesn’t care that they don’t. Why would he? Who needs another trophy when you wake up every morning and you’re still Clint fucking Eastwood?

But AMERICAN SNIPER is different. It was nominated for 6 Oscars including best picture, and when it went into wide release last weekend it immediately became a smash hit, the biggest opening of Clint’s career. Also, it’s one of those movies that not only sells tickets, but that people apparently like. It has an A+ Cinemascore and an 89% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (His previous three movies as director rated 65%, 45% and 38%).

Most of my critic people I read on Twitter hate the movie and keep making fun of a part where Cooper holds an obvious fake baby (I honestly didn’t notice it, despite advance warning). Regular people who I’ve noticed by clicking on the “American Sniper” trending topic give unqualified raves and mostly say that it is for sure the greatest movie they have ever seen or will ever see by far and that it makes them proud to be American and their heart goes out to the sacrifice and the freedom go back to terrorism if you don’t like it and America forever. That sort of thing. I doubt if you’re reading this in a couple years that it will be considered that important of a movie, but as I write this it’s a big enough deal that various scamps and rascals are trying to turn it into another stupid culture war.

It’s that old condescending page from the Bush era playbook where writers pretend that they’re the Lorax who speaks for the Walmart shopping, beer belly sporting Real God Damn Americans who work so hard and love the flag so much and god damn it they can’t help it if they’re kinda simple and isn’t that really kind of noble though anyway so how dare those liberal media elites with their skinny pants and dijon mustard be so out of touch to turn their nose up to AMERICAN SNIPER or the Kevin James pictures or what have you. Why they always gotta get all thinky about stuff. Go read a book egghead ha ha ha nerds.

mp_americansniperThe movie does in fact play to this audience of unhipsters. Cooper as Kyle is completely uncool by movie standards. Sure, his incredible gun skills are cinematic, but at home he wears polo shirts tucked into his light blue Wrangler jeans, Oakley-type sunglasses always sitting on top of his dirty, bent-brimmed baseball hat. He implies he listens to country music (contemporary, I bet), drives a pickup truck, sports a tribal tattoo and his wife calls him “babe.” NASCAR is not mentioned but could be inferred.

It is true that some of the anti-SNIPER people can’t relate to a dude like that, and also that they assume the pro side are a bunch of mouth-breathing hayseed nitwits, a stereotype not helped by a wave of dickheads on social media proudly saying that the movie makes them want to go out and shoot [racial slur]s. The other side presents their moronic gibberish as evidence that the movie is some kind of kill-crazy pro-war tract.

If I may make a modest proposal though, I would ask that maybe we not consider the illiterate Twitter boasts of sub-human shitbags to be the definitive interpretations of cinematic art. Like, maybe it’s likely that if you are that bad at writing sentences and conveying the sense of having a human soul that also you aren’t very good at picking up the subtleties in a war drama. In my opinion. And I’m pretty sure they’d have the same review for IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS or something anyway. Or even ALADDIN.

The most disheartening version of this sort of divisiveness I found was a box office report on the websight of a wounded warrior who crowed “It appears that Americans are more interested in honoring the heroes that defend them, rather than wallow in self-hatred over the racial sins of the past. That would explain why AMERICAN SNIPER based on the life of Chris Kyle is smashing box office records, while liberally acclaimed SELMA is floundering.”

In other words, Real Americans would never honor Martin Luther King – a great American hero who  gave his life defending freedom – on Martin Luther King Day weekend. I just don’t get these people. When the “we love America” side makes blatantly un-American arguments like this it makes the whole thing so confusing. And why do they think you have to choose between both of those movies? See both of them, goofball. They’re both good. Even if they really were opposing movies (which is ridiculous) I think you can handle checking out opposing viewpoints and considering them for yourself.

Unlike real wars, culture wars don’t leave you traumatized, they just make you act stupid. Here’s the one thing that AMERICAN SNIPER lovers and haters agree on: this movie is nothing but a jingoistic love letter to the killing prowess of elite American soldiers overseas. But they’re both wrong. The thing that’s cool about Clint as a director is his resistance to black and white, good and evil, easy answers and telling you what to think. You have to bring yourself to his movies, so I guess it’s not surprising that people bring their own prejudices. Including me. But I’m right on this one, friends. Hear me out.

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If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the tense situation that opens the movie. Kyle is on a rooftop surveying an Iraqi street in advance of an American convoy. Through his scope he spots a woman and a small boy who seem to be carrying a grenade. He’s talking to people over his headset but no one else can confirm what he sees, so they say it’s up to him. He has to decide whether to believe his eyes, and whether to shoot a woman and a child.

As his finger touches the trigger it jumps back in time, and the first chunk of the movie is about some of the events that brought him there, the formative experiences that made the man who has to make this decision. One is a memory of his dad (Ben Reed, who played a pilot in FACE/OFF) ambushing his sons at the dinner table to sermonize about the world being divided into wolves (bullies and bad people), sheep (passive people who get beat up) and sheepdogs (great awesome warrior types who beat up the wolves to protect the sheep). Apparently this simplistic philosophy is striking a chord with alot of viewers, which is too bad (here’s a good argument against it). But in the movie it’s not treated as necessarily a good idea. It’s well-meaning, but delivered to the boys through terror, with Reed playing it like a crazy man and suddenly slamming his belt on the table as a threatened consequence of wolfiness.

We also see dad bringing young Kyle hunting, teaching him to not feel bad about killing an animal. Once he’s in the military he learns to shoot, but has a harder time on abstract targets than on living things. He’s not so much a good shot as a good killer.

His reason for joining up, according to the movie, is seeing the 1998 Kenya embassy bombings on the news. He’s livid. “Do you see what they did to us!?” This was apparently not a motive for Kyle joining up in real life, but it’s an invented scene that shows this sort of hot-headed, them vs. us, eye-for-an-eye idea of foreign policy. It’s like if Josey Wales joined the Bushwhackers after just hearing about Union guerillas, not having his family killed. I believe it’s Kyle’s brother Jeff (Keir O’Donnell, who was in WEDDING CRASHERS with Cooper) that’s in this scene and looks confused by how personally he’s taking it.

Later Kyle has the same reaction when he sees the burning World Trade Center on TV. He goes right to war… in Iraq. The movie doesn’t note the discrepancy, but shit, I hope some viewers do. That’s one point I actually wouldn’t mind a little underlining on, because it’s sad to think of knuckleheads letting this support their belief in the mythical 9-11/Iraq correlation. But artistically it’s legit. This is clearly what the soldiers were told and what many of them believed, or at least told themselves to make their sacrifices worthwhile.

Kyle always says it’s not about killing insurgents to him, it’s about saving American soldiers. He doesn’t regret the people he killed, he regrets the people he didn’t save. The sheep, I guess. But he also paints the Punisher skull symbol on his vest and vehicles, and refers to his team as “punishers.” So there’s at least a playful idea of being an anti-hero bringing violent vengeance to bad guys. No, not vengeance. Punishment. Life imitates Dolph Lundgren.

So when we come back to Kyle on that roof with his crosshairs on the mother and child it’s clear that this is a simple man with a simple world view being asked to make a difficult, maybe impossible moral and strategic decision. “It’s your call” and “they’ll burn you if you’re wrong,” but even if you’re right you’ll have it on your conscience for the rest of your life. If you’re able to still have a conscience.

Josey Wales never renounced his past, and neither does Kyle. Since the movie takes his point-of-view, and since he wasn’t some Ron Kovic type, it’s not going to preach to us choir members about the senselessness of the war. But there are a bunch of indications that Kyle’s either not equipped or not willing to see the complexity of the situations he’s involved in. When his little brother also enlists and ends up in Iraq Kyle seems terrified for him, but when he sees him heading home shaken up and saying “Fuck this country!” he doesn’t know how to handle it. B-but, but we’re sheepdogs though, man!

When fellow SEAL Marc Lee (Luke Grimes, TAKEN 2) hints at being disillusioned with the war, Kyle immediately puts up a wall. He won’t discuss it with him, I don’t think he’ll even make eye contact. When Lee is killed in combat and it’s revealed that he wrote home about how he was feeling, Kyle angrily tells his wife (Sienna Miller, GI JOE: RISE OF COBRA) that it was the letter that killed him. In his mind he can’t have questions, he can’t think things through, he can’t express his feelings. It would kill him. This is also illustrated through all the homefront scenes, where he repeatedly denies having anything wrong with him and refuses any offers of help even though his blood pressure runs out of control and he’s constantly on the edge of flipping out. Just ignore it and get through it, like getting sprayed with a firehose in BUD/S training.

To me one of the most important scenes is the funeral, where Lee’s mother (Pamela Denise Weaver, ROBOT WARS) tries to read the letter out loud to everyone. This is the only time in the movie where someone tries to articulate an argument against the war. She does it through sobs, seemingly terrified of what people will think of her, but feeling that it has to be done. Everyone at the funeral sits stonefaced, pretends like nothing is happening, except for Kyle, who glares at her through his Wiley X sunglasses. She doesn’t make it to the end, just sputters out and the Honor Guard with their white gloves go right into their impressive gun ceremony. All the questions are washed away by pomp and circumstance.

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But you can see why people would make assumptions. Since the tagline is “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history” and most articles start out with some variation of “he was credited with 160 confirmed kills but claims 255,” it’s hard not to be reminded of NATION’S PRIDE, the fictional propaganda film from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS where the Nazis glorified their most prolific sniper. Last week Seth Rogen got people up in arms by pointing that out, but come on, I’m pretty sure we all thought of it. That’s not comparing the ideology of the armies they’re fighting for, it’s just pointing out the weirdness of rewarding our most prolific sniper with movie stardom after that exact thing happened in a fictional movie about Nazis.

But the two movies are very different. In the fake one, the movie-within-the-other-movie, Private First Class Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) is like a sniper Rambo, holed up in a tower with swarms of American troops running and firing at him, and he’s just so great that he takes them all out, causing bodies to pile up and fill the streets. They fall off towers, roll off roofs, land on fruit stands.

The Kyle of AMERICAN SNIPER is not Fredrick Zoller or Rambo, he’s an unseen force in the sky backing up the troops. He’s told he makes them feel invincible. But he’s usually hiding in a little hole all day, pissing himself, putting his scope on what could be innocent people, waiting to see what they’ll do. Despite one battle where a superior tells them that the city is abandoned and anyone there is trying to kill them, we don’t see that many shootings of unambiguous bad guys. I’ve read that in the book he brags about some pretty spectacular shots, but thankfully there’s not much here that plays as a show-offy “kill.” I had my suspicions about the sold out Saturday multiplex crowd I saw it with, but nobody cheered or applauded until the end credits. It seems like in most of the scenes where we’re looking through the crosshairs it’s at a woman or a child who he – and we – hope he won’t have to shoot.

In fact there is one scene where he does decide to go Rambo, disobeys orders to get on the ground and join the soldiers in kicking down doors. For about two minutes it makes him seem awesome, but then all the sudden they’re invading the home of an innocent, crying family, slamming old men, women and children against walls and furniture, yelling and poking gun barrels in their faces. Kyle is smart enough to discover a way that the family can get them information, (SPOILER) but this ends up going very, very poorly for the family. Not a good move.

And that’s not the only time Kyle does the awesome movie hero thing instead of the professional, by-the-book one and it ends up being disastrous. In the climax he achieves a seemingly impossible shot, kills his nemesis and avenges his friend’s death all with one slow motion CGI bullet, but again he was going against orders, acting selfishly, and it fucks up the whole operation, leaving him scrambling to clean up an unholy mess without all his friends getting killed. That thing he’s been trying to do for the whole movie is clearly something he shouldn’t have done.

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Filmatistically this doesn’t always feel 100% Clint. The opening moves really fast, skips around in time, it seems more energetic and elaborate than he’d usually do, which is fine, it works. A touch that does immediately mark it as an Eastwood directorial work is some minimalistic piano scoring. One of the things I’ve always loved about his movies is his resistance to button-pushing music. He prefers quiet and gentle, sometimes jazzy.

But as soon as he gets to Iraq it’s dramatic stings and buzzes telling you when to be nervous and who’s evil and shit. It’s uncharacteristically manipulative for Eastwood. But at least he doesn’t have a bunch of Hans Zimmer THE ROCK type triumphant themes. The only really fleshed out musical moment is a beautiful piece Ennio Morricone did for the footage of Kyle’s actual funeral procession at the end.

It’s the same with Kyle’s PTSD. In early homefront scenes we notice that if a lawnmower or drill or something turns on nearby he will turn his head, ready for action. No music sting, no dramatic zoom-in, it’s all in Cooper’s performance. I suppose we can give credit to the sound design too, for giving us ambient sounds that, in context, we know seem like potential threats in his mind. But later on it shifts to the traditional method of overlapping combat sounds and dramatic music over the backyard barbecue. Laying it on a little thick. Clint is not usually a laying it on thick guy.

Another example is Kyle’s insurgent counterpart, Mustafa (Sammy Shiek, LONE SURVIVOR, AN AMERICAN CAROL). He too is a legendary sniper known for accurate long distance shots. He was even in the Olympics. But the movie works so hard to make him seem like a traditional movie villain, complete with evil scowl and black headwrap, that when we find out he has a wife and kids and home just like Kyle it didn’t feel like a revelation to me, more like an afterthought. I’m not sure the point lands. Maybe to pull it off Clint will have to go make a better movie from the point of view of the other side, like he did with LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. I’m sure that would go over well.

One controversy about the movie has to do with whether they’re making too much of a hero out of a guy who, in his book and in later interviews and articles, said some pretty disturbing things about killing. The movie kind of tones down the colorful way he talked and boasted. He calls the people he killed (not necessarily all Iraqis) “savages” a couple times, but doesn’t laugh about killing and say that it’s fun or call himself “bloodthirsty.” He usually seems uncomfortable with his nickname “Legend,” and definitely when a soldier approaches him at a car repair shop and thanks him for saving his life.

Kyle at home is seen solely as a distant, shattered man trying to just be a husband and dad while guilt-ridden about not being in Iraq helping his brothers. In reality homefront Kyle either found time to get into trouble or made up tall tales about it. In the book he tells a story about punching out Jesse Ventura in a bar for loudly criticizing Bush and the war in a bar near the grieving family of a deceased SEAL. Kyle’s friends claim it really happened, but a jury found 8-2 against his estate in a defamation lawsuit filed by Ventura. Another legend about Kyle has him shooting and killing two carjackers, and it being covered up by police who knew about his reputation in the military. Journalists who have looked into this have, thankfully, found it unsubstantiatable and unlikely. The worst Kyle story is the one he told in drunken conversation claiming that he and another military contractor camped out on the Superdome during Katrina and killed dozens of looters. A SEAL friend of his found the idea disturbing enough to report it on his websight, but later removed it when he decided the story wasn’t credible. (After all, wouldn’t we know if dozens of people had been shot?)

I don’t believe it happened, but it’s that he said it that’s relevant here. A Kyle who thinks “I killed a whole bunch of American citizens for trying to steal stuff during a natural disaster” is a cool brag is hard to reconcile with the more reasonable character in the movie. But it does show us that his post-war struggles were no joke and that the commander who told him in the beginning that the three things to worry about are ego, booze and women wasn’t that far off.

This is a group who are psyched to tell Kyle at his wedding that they just found out they’re going to war. I swear I’ve seen that same scenario in another war movie only treated as bad news. These guys are a different breed. But clearly after they come home from all that they have alot to deal with. To me the key to the movie is not what Kyle says, but what he doesn’t say. He acts invincible but come on, look at his eyes in all the stills included here. No wonder he wears sunglasses all the time! He tells his wife he’s fine when he’s clearly not. So when he says he has no regrets about killing people, only about the people he didn’t save, we can decide for ourselves how true that is.

Before I saw the movie I heard a complaint about it not showing Kyle’s death, just mentioning it in text. I thought that sounded like a ridiculous criticism, because it’s based on his memoir, of course it doesn’t have his death. And it was being developed and scripted before he died, he’s even credited as a producer. The confessed killer hasn’t gone to trial yet, and is the only surviving person who saw what happened. More importantly, the murder doesn’t have to be re-enacted for its circumstances to be part of our understanding of the story. We don’t get to see a guy discover Bradley Cooper face down in a shooting range, but that doesn’t stop us from wrestling with what it means that the deadliest sniper in war was killed by a gun back at home, that his idea of therapy for PTSD was to shoot guns, that he tried to protect Americans by killing all those people from a distance and then when he tried to help one without killing he got shot in the back. All those ironies are still part of the context.

But actually I have to concede that the way they handle it in the movie is really awkward. They do partly depict it, they show him leaving for the gun range with his killer, quickly explaining that it’s a guy someone asked him to help with his PTSD. Kyle gets to say goodbye to all his family members and his wife says everything she needs to say to him and he even jokes with his son about taking care of the family while he’s gone. But they barely explain what’s going on and then the title card says “Later that day, he was killed,” blah blah blah. I heard people saying “Whuh?”

Time did a good interview with screenwriter Jason Hall (an actor who was in JACK FROST 2) about his intentions, and he says “I’ve spent time with their son, and that kid is going to grow up without a dad. I don’t want to be the guy who made some f—ing movie where I show his dad getting his f—ing head blown off.” I think he’s right not to show it, but there must’ve been a better way to do it than this.

Despite that misstep I think it’s a pretty effective movie even for those of us who are, as Clint says, “not nuts about war.” I think it’s receiving a bit of the WOLF OF WALL STREET syndrome, that people are punishing it for not coming right out and stating “Yes, here is what you’re supposed to think about all this, in case you weren’t sure.” I mean, I relate more to the people who hate the movie because they think it’s glorifying war than the people who love it for the same reason. And maybe they have stronger morals than me, they’re willing to sacrifice to stop any chance of revisionists pretending that horrible war was justice. But I love movies too much. We’re always gonna have to live with the dipshits. Do we really need to rework all of our movies for their benefit too? I don’t think we should. Fuck ’em.

Near the end there’s a scene of Kyle taking his son hunting for the first time, just like his dad did for him in one of the early scenes that set him up to become a sniper. He talks in awe about “the first time you make a heart stop beating,” like you gotta teach a kid to kill just like you gotta teach him to shave. It seems that after all that he did, all that he risked, all that he has weighing on him, all that it did to his family, he’s perfectly happy to have the cycle start over with his son. I really can’t tell what we’re supposed to think about this scene, but I know what I do think about it. And that’s what movies can do.

NOTE: I spent all week writing this and in the middle of it I saw this great piece by Jason Bailey at Flavorwire that makes some of the same points I did in the first section. So my apologies if some of that was redundant.

UPDATED NOTE: After posting this I listened to the excellent episode of The Q & A Podcast with screenwriter Jason Hall. Regardless of whether you think he succeeded or not it’s a really illuminating look at his intent in writing the movie. I was also surprised to learn that it is not really an adaptation of the book, he approached Kyle and wrote the script before the book was finished. He also has interesting things to say about why he thinks the book doesn’t reflect the real guy.

APPENDIX: Bradley Cooper projects with “America” or “American” in the title

WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER
OLDER THAN AMERICA
AMERICAN HUSTLE
AMERICAN SNIPER
WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (tv series)
AMERICAN BLOOD

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, January 26th, 2015 at 11:43 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews, War. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

79 Responses to “American Sniper”

  1. This is easily the best review of AMERICAN SNIPER I’ve read.

  2. There are some rules that have to be followed when you’re making a movie about someone who could (should?) be seen as a bad person. You have to have a moral compass somewhere. Either as a character in the movie or as a tone that indicates that at least the director knows what’s wrong and what’s right. By polishing up Kyle’s more questionable sides Eastwood shows that he has an agenda, even if it’s buried beneath a layer of so-called objectivity. He says that he wanted to show what war does to a family, but couldn’t he have done that with a fictional character?

  3. He could’ve if he was making a movie about this topic from scratch. But this was a project that had been in development for a while and eventually came to him. He took it and filtered it through Clint-vision, which is what he has done with many of his director-only movies.

    Before anyone asks, I do think that if Spielberg had stayed on he might’ve made a superior movie. But maybe a less subtle one and still, with what I’m sure would’ve been incredible war sequences, something that couldn’t help but make dummies excited about killing people. It would’ve been different.

  4. Well, from Clint’s point of view, Warner Bros offered him the project, he saw that it would let him explore the themes he’s been looking at since Unforgiven but in a modern war context, so he took the project on. You have to remember that the producers, writers, actors, and director were all hanging out with and in contact with Kyle’s family. You spend time with a dead man’s kids, I can’t imagine you’d feel right villifying the guy’s memory for a national audience, so ya, they softened some edges and played it more down the middle.

  5. I watched this a couple of weeks ago and it left a very sour taste in my mouth indeed. I’ve been telling everyone who would listen how much i hated it, got into several arguments over it, and am just sick of talking about it at this point, but i have to say it is, at least, well made and well acted. However, i’m really disappointed that Clint Eastwood would waste his time on such an absolutely wretched piece of trash. Foreigners are treated as less than worthless, but it seems that this is the way Kyle felt about them anyway so maybe it’s accurate in that respect. The whole thing is like some kind of sick joke, glorifying a total nob who couldn’t do anything meaningful with his life apart from kill, i couldn’t relate to him at all, something i’m very glad for. His wife is the only character who’s not some super-patriotic cutout, she’s always asking him to stay home and be with his family, but no, HE MUST SAVE HIS BROTHERS BECAUSE NOBODY ELSE CAN, AND BECAUSE HE IS THE BEST!!!! Just awful, awful rubbish, useful only as a cautionary tale of why you shouldn’t believe everything the government tells you and why you shouldn’t believe your own hype. Oh, and maybe that you ought to listen to your wife once in a while. Reading more about Chris Kyle since i watched the film, he sounds like a racist fantasist who just loved to tell tall tales about all the people he murdered (and enjoyed murdering) both in their country, Iraq, and in the US – if you haven’t heard about his claims to have shot 30 people from the Skydome roof in New Orleans (on government orders), have a read of it. He also claimed to have killed 2 guys who tried to rob him, and because he was such a super soldier, who the government relied on, the cops hushed it up and he was never charged. Yeah right. And also, he claims he punched Jesse Ventura at a Navy Seal gathering, so he went about slandering Ventura and ruining his reputation. The courts didn’t believe his story and awarded huge damages to Ventura.

    I love Clint Eastwood’s films, i think he’s a great director, but asking me to sympathise with a subject like Chris Kyle is just a step too far. I wonder how Clint feels about all the unthinking super-patriots who lapped this up and revere Kyle like he was some kind of God? He says he’s anti-war, and i believe him, but i think he really fumbled this one by making the guy out to be just an ordinary dude, the worst thing he does in the film (apart from murdering all those people and not feeling bad) is raise his voice a little bit at a nurse. He is credited with 160-odd kills, but says gleefully that it’s more like 260 and he wishes he could have killed more, and he has the nerve to bring God into it too. If that’s not the behaviour of a serial killing nutcase, i don’t know what is. Anyway, it’s a total whitewash of someone who was obviously pretty fucked up, and it has inspired many thousands of people to pour bile on their countrymen who don’t agree with the glory of it all. That’s the worst thing, seeing all of the fools on the internet who think that to disagree with sending soldiers off to Iraq to die is to be unpatriotic, a lefty and a coward. Like all those guys have ever done anything to defend their country, or to help it, in any way. Maybe they will be inspired to join up now so they can see how much fun battle really is, firsthand.

  6. And come to think of it, pegsman, I disagree with that rule, which is one reason I love Eastwood. Harry Callahan, Josey Wales, Walt Kowalski, J. Edgar Hoover – these are all characters “who could (should?) be seen as a bad person,” most of them killers, many of them doing dirt in service of their job or country and believing they are right. Clint’s humane and non-judgmental treatment of these (sometimes inhumane and judgmental) flawed characters is one of his most interesting qualities.

  7. So is this Morricone’s first original composition for a film Clint directed?

  8. While I can totally understand the desire to present someone generously after having spent time with their family and loved ones, I have mixed feelings about whether its an appropriate thing to do for a movie based on a true incident, especially one so recent. I mean, if we’re not going to be honest about who this guy was and what he did, or what the war did to him… what are we even talking about here? Do we really feel like we can have a meaningful conversation about this topic by sanitizing this guy’s own autobiography so he seems nicer and more reasonable?

    But then again, I guess it probably comes down to how you feel about him and (alas) what he stands for. Is he basically a good guy, and the point of the story is that he’s a good soldier, in which case it would be OK to soft-pedal his less savory aspects? Or is the point that it maybe takes a guy who’s not very nice to fight this kind of war, or that maybe fighting this kind of war turns someone into something not very nice out of necessity?

    I mean, I don’t think any of us faulted SELMA for making only passing reference to MLK’s infidelities, because, you know, that’s not really the point of the story. But I think here, maybe Kyle’s personal problems might actually be an essential part of the story, and that polishing them out a little may seriously diminish the point of telling this story.

    Of course, we do that to history all the time, don’t we? The past is so expansive we usually opt to tell the tale of a great deed instead of a nuanced person. It’s hard to imagine a Jefferson or George Washington biopic that showed them raping their slaves, for example. Maybe such a film could be made, but mostly you figure the point of telling Washington or Jefferson’s story is to show what the accomplished, not necessarily to whitewash their lives but simply because their story is so large already that there’s little time to dwell on the petty ugliness of day-to-day life. I mean, other than FURY, how many WWII movies can you think of where Americans are portrayed as genuinely unheroic? They might have their foibles, but they’re essentially the good guys, and what matters is what they did. It’s harder to take that kind of big-picture approach with events that are so painfully recent, though. Maybe we’re not ready to look at the big picture yet, with so many small tragedies still so fresh.

    So, I guess the question is: is AMERICAN SNIPER fundamentally a movie about who Chris Kyle was (in which case I’m not sure fictionalizing him into a nicer guy is fair) or is it a movie about what he did in which case, we can probably accept a fictionalized version which celebrates his accomplishments and to which his possible personal flaws are more of an interesting nuance than the main focus?

    I haven’t seen the movie yet so I don’t know. I can see how this could be a real tricky problem to overcome, though.

  9. Great review, Vern. Bullseye.

  10. Good movie, and a darn good performance by Cooper. But what I found most impressive was the change up Clint pulled off in his directorial style. Don’t think any of his other movies have displayed this kinetic a level of action.

    With regards to unnecessary/embarrassing divisiveness, “real Americans” of every socio-political leaning can reasonably disagree with the referenced wounded warrior’s conclusion about the success of Sniper/ floppage of Selma. But ILM cgi morphing the straight-forward non-ambiguity of “…more interested in honoring the heroes that defend them, rather than wallow in self-hatred over the racial sins of the past” to??? “…Real Americans would never honor Martin Luther King…” aint elevatin the game Main Man.

  11. I saw this a week ago and it left a bad taste in my mouth. This is a really thoughtful review, though, and it did make me reconsider the movie’s point of view, that maybe it’s more ambivalent than I walked away thinking it was. For sure, I brought my own prejudices to it.

    Still, the bad taste lingers, maybe for different reasons. What Subtlety said suggested above strikes more of a chord with me. The thing about “…if we’re not going to be honest about who this guy was and what he did, or what the war did to him… what are we even talking about here?”

    It’s a movie about Chris Kyle — the titular American Sniper — and it opens up with a scene of him being conflicted about shooting a child. Some cursory research proves that conflict is bullshit. Chris Kyle’s conflict was that he wasn’t able to shoot more people. He wanted to kill more people so badly he even made some kills up. Not even enemy combatants, either, but (implicitly) black people in New Orleans. So what’s the movie doing when it puts dishonest lines in his mouth like “That’s not a title you want” (in response to being called “a legend”)?

    I dunno, maybe it’s fair to call that a “humane and non-judgmental treatment.” I wanna call it something else.

    Interesting review, though, as always.

  12. To borrow from Dickens:

    It was the best of cinema, it was the worst of cinema, it was the cinema of wisdom, it was the cinema of foolishness, it was the cinema of belief, it was the cinema of incredulity, it was the cinema of Light, it was the cinema of Darkness, it was the cinema of hope, it was the cinema of despair, we talkbackers had everything before us, we talkbackers had nothing before us, audiences were all going direct to Heaven, audiences were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

    As far as straight-up filmatism, this is mostly a pretty great movie. Decouple truth from narrative from truthiness and allow for the fact that this is strictly Chris Kyle’s story from Chris Kyle’s [limited, kinda silly, kinda maybe racist] perspective (based on Chris Kyle’s kinda stupid co-ghost-written book and drunken ramblings-cum-legends) filtered through Clint and his questionable screenwriter, and you have yourself a satisfying, occasionally exhilarating action movie centered around an awesome patriot-weapon who was also an awesomely assholish dick & ignoramus.

    Take the wider view and consider the screenplay’s idiotic narrative-historical shortcuts & shortsighted otherism, and, well, your politics and/or nationality will guide you on how to receive AMERICAN SNIPER and how much you might hate it and/or how much you hate its more idiotic, multitudinous ticketbuying supporters.

    Or cut the baby in half and accept the narrative’s shortcomings & insulting over-simplicity as necessary evils filmmakers must make a part of their work when crafting a cramped 2 hour blockbuster & crowd-pleaser; then you can enjoy the period-milieu details (near impeccable to my skeptical eye, especially the OIF field living quarters and mission-prep briefings) and excellent action set pieces.

    My main complaint
    (apart from a buncha obvious bad, insulting biopic “telling not showing” type writing and stupid coincidences (meeting his brother on the airfield, really?))
    is, why did that Marine Corps unit only have like 2 meters separation while marching through Fallujah? SOP calls for at least — in daytime conditions on steady terrain — 5m between you and the guy in front of you, so as to limit kills/injuries in the event of an incoming grenade or explosion.

    I also didn’t like how Kyle told the doorkickers he could teach them some stuff as he joined them in the middle of a mission. I don’t care if dude is a SEAL, I’m not letting some straggler attachment suddenly take lead on my op, and he sure as hell isn’t gonna start barking suggestions and laying down knowledge during infantry movements in Fallujah as though we’re strolling through a shoothouse in Lejeune. That was some self-glorifying bullshit.

  13. Believe me, I know I could’ve typed “cut the robot-baby in half…” there and gotten some easy laughs, but I wouldn’t feel right about it. This controversy completely eludes me. Maybe I saw a different print or something, but there was nothing strange about the infants, real or CG or post-natal android, in AMERICAN SNIPER.

  14. The Original Paul

    January 26th, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    …Wow.

    Ok, that was a brilliant review. And some pretty insightful comments too.

    I kinda want to see the movie, more because I want to be able to join the conversation on it than because I think I’d actually enjoy it. But maybe it’s not the sort of movie you’re meant to “enjoy”.

  15. Mouth: I have a question, if you don’t mind. What movies, if any, do you consider to be highly accurate to your experience in combat? I’m curious as to whether or not they’ve made any without including significant quantities of bullshit.

  16. Brilliant review, Vern. I went in to this movie almost cold, having only seen the teaser trailer with the mother and child in the crosshairs, then a shot of Kyle lying traumatized in a hospital bed, and I expected it to be about this guy living with the guilt of what he had to do in the war. So I was surprised that it was more of a HURT LOCKER type story, with Kyle going on his tours, returning home to domestic life, then itching to get back to the drug of war.

    The PTSD thing did come up often in the film, especially with his wife always stating how distant he was after every tour, so maybe that was a big reason he kept going back to war – he was floundering at home, but validated and worshiped on the battlefield, even though it scarred and changed him. I’m sure this is a common issue for many men, not just in the military. We get a hard time at home, we can’t wait to get back to work where we know exactly what we’re doing and how much we’re valued. It’s an ego thing all round.

    I was also thinking how much I loved Eastwood’s style, even when he strayed a bit outside his comfort zone in this. It was well paced, no-frills, mostly understated, and yes, like you said non-judgmental. How refreshing. I hope Eastwood gets to make two dozen more movies in his lifetime.

  17. SofS, short answer:

    ELITE SQUAD (2007)
    ELITE SQUAD 2 (2010)
    THE D.I. (1957)

    Longer answer: Outside of documentaries or raw footage, you have to look for and settle for little brief pockets of excellent representation of what it’s like. ACT OF VALOR is hilariously overlooked & underrated in this regard, though it’s overall another piece of super-overblown-and-streamlined-for-feature-length entertainment. Bigelow/Boal’s most recent efforts contain a few (a very very few) precious minutes here & there where things seem impressively reflective of a OIF/OEF troop’s real experience. I’m alone on this, but I actually thought the made-for-tv Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden, starring Cam Gigandet (NEVER BACK DOWN) and Xzibit (a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-2FCCHoJoQ”>alkaholik), was damn good.

    AMERICAN SNIPER is better than average on this front. It’s just that, a little undigestable bullshit goes a long way, and I don’t like how people enthusiastically & tearfully clapped as the end credits appeared as though they were 16th century Catholic Cardinals watching THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

  18. Oops, I guess I need help from Vern to pimp my Xzibit YouTube link.

  19. “But I’m right on this one, friends. Hear me out”.

    THAT’s precisely where I stopped reading, and I doubt I was the only one. I’m guessing the remainder was a sermon of some sort.

  20. ‘Amazing Larry’

    THAT’s precisely where I stopped reading, and I hope I wasn’t the only one. I’m guessing the remainder was a racist rightwing screed of some sort.

    Feel free to disappear forever.

  21. I want to see this movie eventually, but living where I live and knowing some of the types the movie has attracted, I’m not sure I want to immerse myself in that environment by seeing it in theaters, I would probably be more comfortable watching it at home.

    But I find the situation surrounding the movie fascinating, the Iraq war seemed entirely forgotten for many years, even before it was technically over, I kept wondering whether THE HURT LOCKER was going to be the only significant movie about it, but finally along comes this movie and not surprisingly it reopens some old wounds for a topic that I assumed was already regulated to the dustbin of American culture.

    It bothers me that people are using this movie as an unintentional revisionist history slant on Iraq, just like RAMBO 2 was the same for Vietnam (completely intentionally in that case), but of course conservatives were going to take that stance, OF COURSE they’re going to look back on it as being completely justified, how could they not? That’s just conservative politics in the 21st century for you, I don’t think someone should deride AMERICAN SNIPER just for that alone, I’m sure there’s plenty of idiots who think FULL METAL JACKET is nothing more than an awesome war movie where R Lee Ermey hilariously yells “ARE YOU A PETER PUFFEEEEEEEEEER!?”, but that’s not the fault of the movie itself.

  22. Well, having JD and Rogue4 (mostly) not mad at me and Mouth not particularly offended by a military movie I liked… that’s not bad for one day. I’ll take it.

    Rogue, I quoted his words verbatim so you can take or leave my interpretation right next to it, but I don’t see what your disagreement is there. He is clearly indicating that MLK is not “a hero who defended us” and that watching a movie about one of his accomplishments is “wallowing in self hatred.” I don’t believe there was any artistic license taken on my part.

    I guess I can’t even make a brief reference to the existence of racism without it turning into controversy here, but anyway I’m very happy that you seem okay with the main content of the review. It’s nice to have some kind of common ground with you guys.

  23. The historic box office success of AMERICAN SNIPER head to head with BLACKHAT will be is a major source of embarrassment to the cinephile world.

    Michael Mann’s newest movie is literally a thousand times better and more worthy of deep discussion than Clint’s release here, but… the masses have spoken.

  24. Hey, I like dijon mustard.

  25. “He implies he listens to country music (contemporary, I bet)”

    Musical artists the late Chris Kyle admits to listening to in his bestselling chunk of personal mythologization AMERICAN SNIPER:

    -Toby Keith
    -Slipknot
    -Papa Roach
    -Dope
    -Drowning Pool

    I can’t approach this movie objectively, because I was really hoping for a less diluted version of the xenophobic sociopathy Kyle sprays all over the book. What is this Roland Emmerich’s THE PATRIOT?

  26. Ennio Morricone’s song for the film was first used in the 1965 Spaghetti Western THE RETURN OF RINGO.

  27. Oh God, Slipknot? Papa Roach? This guy certainly wasn’t any deep thinker then.

  28. My right-leaning dad (who is not the most racially sensitive guy, but pretty far from a Klansman) chose to watch SELMA over this and said it was very good. In the midst of all this culture war bullshit that Vern so eloquently described, I take some comfort in that.

    In total agreement with Mouth about BLACKHAT. It’s too bad Vern’s screening of it went awry, hopefully he got a chance to see it again.

    David Lambert: Thanks for clearing that up.

  29. Vern, except for J. Edgar Hoover, all the characters you mention are fictional, AND are redeemed during the course of the film. Eastwood knew about, and followed, the “rule” back than. All the way up to GRAN TORINO, in fact. Perhaps especially in GRAN TORINO. I’m afraid we have to consider that he either was hired to make a movie for an “audience of unhipsters” – they needed someone of his stature to handle the following shitstorm – or that he messed up. And I refuse to believe the last one.

  30. Mouth: We’d be discussing BLACKHAT here too but the fucking sound went out when I went to see it and they didn’t know how to fix it! So I’ll give it another shot on the weekend.

    ironcupshrug: This changes everything. Maybe Clint should’ve been more judgmental after all.

    David: Thank you, I suspected it was a pre-existing piece of music but I had not been able to verify that.

  31. I think I’m going to be a conscientious objector in this particular culture war and maybe go catch a matinee of JENNIFER LOPEZ IS J-LO IN ROB COHEN’S THE BOY NEXT DOOR: RISE OF THE MILF-FUCKER later this week after the snowpocalypse has died down. I celebrate the heroes of today.

  32. I was really looking forward to Vern’s review of this film, because I figured it would break away from the easy narratives. I was not disappointed I’ve yet to see the film, though, because, like Griff, I’m a little worried about seeing it with a bunch of yahoos who might ruin the experience. I think that for many people, it might be easier to approach this film objectively if it had not been supposedly based off of a true story. Eastwood can handle ambiguity in his movies, so I never fully bought into claims that the film was wall to wall flag waving jingoism.

  33. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/clint-eastwood-american-snipers-biggest-766498

    “The biggest antiwar statement any film” can make is to show “the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did,” Clint Eastwood said at Saturday’s Producers Guild Award Nominees Breakfast… “One of my favorite war movies that I’ve been involved with is ‘Letters from Iwo Jima,'” he continued. “And that was about family, about being taken away from life, being sent someplace. In World War II, everybody just sort of went home and got over it. Now there is some effort to help people through it. In Chris Kyle’s case no good deed went unpunished.”

    So Vern nails it comparing it to WOLF OF WALL STREET. It’s the same problem.

    That movie was made to say “see the moral depravity financial scumbaggery creates?” becomes “drugs are cool!”

    AMERICAN SNIPER goes “see the domestic havoc war jingoism creates?” becomes “killing is cool!”

    The intentions of the filmmaker is completely twisted by the viewer, because the director goes for subtlety and not knocking you over the head with obvious moralistic preaching. Plenty can’t handle subtlety, and so the message is completely missed, and it becomes a romp for them.

    What can you do?

    Some people think. Some don’t. The visceral reaction, the emotional reaction, the thoughtful reaction, the moral reaction diverge, and… a person’s character is revealed. Lines of communication vaporized, and resentment between camps in a “culture war” is revealed.

    Movies like AMERICAN SNIPER and WOLF OF WALL STREET are Rorschach tests: your reaction to them reveals your maturity or lack thereof, your thoughtfulness or lack thereof, your level of character.

  34. The Original Paul

    January 27th, 2015 at 11:39 am

    It absolutely baffles me that there are still people out there who don’t “get” the satire of the following movies:

    – ROBOCOP
    – WOLF OF WALL STREET
    – STARSHIP TROOPERS
    – OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN
    – DUDE, WHERE’S MY CAR

    I mean, c’mon!

  35. Good point Paul: Starship Troopers too

    it’s an anti-fascist, anti-totalitarian movie

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starship_Troopers_(film)#Comparison_with_the_novel

    Because the movie originated from an unrelated script, with names and superficial details from the novel being added retroactively, there are many differences between the original book and film. While the original novel has been accused of promoting militarism, fascism and military rule,[10][11] the film satirizes these concepts by featuring news reports that are intensely fascist, xenophobic, and propagandistic. Verhoeven stated in 1997 that the first scene of the film (an advertisement for the mobile infantry) was adapted shot-for-shot from a scene from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, specifically an outdoor rally for the Reichsarbeitsdienst. Other references to Nazism in the movie include the Gestapo-like uniforms of commanding officers, Albert Speer-style architecture and the propagandistic dialogue. (Violence is the supreme authority!)[12]

    A report in an American Cinematographer article states that the Heinlein novel was optioned well into the pre-production period of the film, which had a working title of Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine; most of the writing team reportedly were unaware of the novel at the time. According to the DVD commentary, Paul Verhoeven never finished reading the novel, claiming he read through the first few chapters and became both “bored and depressed.”[3]

    In a 2014 interview on The Adam Carolla Show, actor Michael Ironside, who read the book as a youth, said he asked Director Paul Verhoeven, who grew up in Nazi-occupied Netherlands, “why are you doing a right-wing Fascist movie?” Verhoeven replied, “If I tell the world that a right-wing, Fascist way of doing things doesn’t work, no one will listen to me. So I’m going to make a perfect Fascist world: everyone is beautiful, everything is shiny, everything has big guns and fancy ships, but it’s only good for killing fucking bugs!”[13]

    Likewise, the powered armor technology that is not only central to the book, but became a standard subgenre of science fiction thereafter, is completely absent in the movie, where the characters use World War II–technology weapons and wear light combat gear little more advanced than that.[14] According to Verhoeven, this, and the fascist tone of the book, reflected his own experience in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during WWII.[15]

    and yet some people are gung ho for Starship Troopers with a creepy zeal that is microcosm of the movie’s point

    some people’s reactions to movies which hide their point behind subtlety and nuance… the entire point goes “WHOOSH!” right over their heads and they become embodiments of the very problem the movie tries to explain

    and oh yeah, DUDE WHERE’S MY CAR… nobody seems to understand Ashton Kutcher is the Antichrist! /s

  36. I’m gonna play devil’s advocate against my own point. I do think that in the case of a war movie it is a little different from WOLF OF WALL STREET, because we know from experience the unique problem of how certain people react to war movies. In the book and movie Jarhead for example he talks about how they would watch APOCALYPSE NOW and applaud all the violence. So, although I would disagree with it, I think a legitimate argument could be made against making the movie regardless of its intentions, because it was predictable that people would take it as a movie about how awesome it is to kill 250 people, even if it had been more heavy-handed about its message.

  37. The main problem that most resonates with me isn’t the body count or refusal to give Iraqis any identity apart from ‘target & corpse,’ but the fact that the movie doesn’t take what should have been a very important politically-clarifying tactical pause between Manhattan footage of September 11, 2001, and Kyle posting up on Fallujah rooftops.

    That kind of leap from Event A to Event B is extremely dangerous, wrong, and irresponsible, and it absolutely should be a source of shame for Clint Eastwood & his writers. But [stupid] people believe it, that Saddam was responsible for 9/11 and thus OIF was justified, and now more than ever they want to believe it made sense. Conservatives (and malleable, misled liberals at the time) desperately, blindly want to believe they did the right thing by sending huge amounts of personnel and equipment to a foreign land in that debacle, to “fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here.”

    I don’t want to open the 0DARK30 can of Rorschach-worms, but that movie now represents a similar counterfactual memory-retro-justification test. At the time it was more debatable, but now, a couple years after its release, we know that whatever supposed account of the filmmakers supposedly accessing secret intel documents that supposedly informed their screenplay & movie of how some torture kinda sorta led to info that led to Ace of Spades getting shot in the face was probably utter nonsense. Someone lied, and the lie is now recorded on film, a very popular & admired film that a lot of people consider to be definitive & journalistic in its supposed accuracy even though revelations of the last few months indicate a high level of bullshit at its core.

    The ahistorical trick with AMERICAN SNIPER is similar but easier to pull off, since the amount of time between 9/11/2001 – 2003 (Iraq invasion) to today is greater (so people will only remember what they want to remember or believe is/was true, and they will remain in their respective political bubbles) and because Iraq has collapsed so pathetically the last year that it’s easy to say the post-Bush POTUS administration fucked up (and somehow fucked up even worse than the original fuck-up of OIF itself). So viewers can score political points for their favored p-o-v based on some twisted form of patriotism and misremembered connections between 9/11 and OIF. All the better if you can do it while patting yourself on the back for suddenly sympathizing with a victim of PTSD and his nice Texas family. And hey remember when we were winning the war and killing bad guys because of awesome badasses like Chris Kyle, but now there’s no official boots on the ground or awesome American snipers there and therefore ISIS?

  38. Paul: funny you mention OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Has_Fallen

    London Has Fallen is an upcoming American action thriller film directed by Babak Najafi and written by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John. It is a sequel to Olympus Has Fallen. The film stars Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman.

    Filming began on October 24, 2014, in London, a Christmas break started in November with filming set to resume in February 2015. London Has Fallen is set to be released on October 2, 2015, by Focus Features.

    The story picks up in London, where the British Prime Minister has passed away under mysterious circumstances. His funeral is a must-attend event for leaders of the Western world. But what starts out as the most protected event on Earth turns into a deadly plot to kill the world’s most powerful leaders and unleash a terrifying vision of the future. Only three people have any hope of stopping it: the President of the United States of America Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), his formidable Secret Service head Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), and a British MI-6 agent who rightly trusts no one.[1]

    “Je Suis David Cameron!”

  39. Haven’t seen this movie yet, but it’s hard to read the description of the dad’s “wolves, sheep and sheepdogs” speech without thinking of a not dissimilar metaphor in TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE based on private body parts instead of dog breeds.

  40. The Original Paul

    January 27th, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    BR – wooow is that real? Honestly I’m amazed that anybody (other than me) thought OLYMPUS was good enough to warrant a sequel.

    (Also DUDE WHERE’S MY CAR is a not-so-subtle liberal polemic. Hence the two main characters learning Japanese, helping out a pair of gay immigrants, and using their brains – rather than their fists / guns – to stop an intergalactic war. I could go on and on about this, but given the thread we’re in… yeah, it’s probably not the most appropriate place for it!)

    Vern – I don’t think a filmmaker should be blamed for the wilful misinterpritation of his film by a certain sub-section of his audience, unless the film is so badly made that such an interpritation is reasonable. (This again is what baffles me about the STARSHIP TROOPERS thing. I mean, in at least one scene that I can think of, you’ve got lantern-jawed soldiers in blatant Nazi uniforms giving stiff-armed salutes to an eagle symbol – this isn’t exactly subtle imagery that we’re talking about here. Can you honestly blame Verhoven for people not “getting it”, as some critics seem to do?) I mean, just from the comments here and your review, I’m getting the impression that Clint is pretty clear about what he’s trying to convey in AMERICAN SNIPER.

  41. Paul, don’t get me started on the liberal brainwashing of ENCINO MAN

  42. Mouth – the point is it doesn’t matter what AMERICAN SNIPER did or did not do when it comes to the September 11th/Iraq connection, conservatives were always going to inevitably believe that Iraq was justified, because conservatives don’t think for themselves and if Fox News tells them it was, then it was.

  43. Thanks, Mouth. I’ll stick those on the list. I like it when creators go the extra mile for accuracy.

    (Yes, raw footage is probably best, but I think that I need to be sure that I have a reason for watching videos of real people actually dying. It won’t matter to them at all, obviously, but I’m of the opinion that real deaths need to be approached with the right attitude if you want to remain mentally healthy.)

  44. We’re not talking about misunderstood satire here. We love Clint, so it’s only natural that we try to look on the bright side. But I think we seriously have to consider that AMERICAN SNIPER is excactly what it was supposed to be.

  45. KYLE was USED and SNOOZED a la PAT TILMAN.

    EASTWOOD continues to obediently deliver POST AMERICA demoralizations
    —————————DISGUISED as
    ————————————‘gripping and heartfelt’ americana.

    EASTWOOD is also, meanwhile, ‘mysteriously overlooking’ some 5 decades
    of anniversaries for the now 21st century DEFINING ——KOREAN WAR.

    LOOK at WHAT’s UNFOLDING.

    BEWARE

  46. (nodding head like I understand)

  47. I’m not mad like you guys are that the movie ignores the context of the Iraq war (although, again, I haven’t seen it yet). I mean, I don’t think it’s every movie’s job to give a full historical/political backstory to an event, especially one which is so recent. I mean, if by this point people still don’t get that 9/11 and Iraq were not connected, I really don’t see this movie being the one thing that could finally educate them.

    That said, I still have some serious problems with the idea that the movie softens Kyle up and makes him seem nicer and more conflicted than his own autobiography does. I don’t think it needs to judge him or present him as a villain, but if there really is something to be learned about this man, I don’t think we can really learn it by turning him into a sanitized, fictionalized Hollywood version. You gotta either tell it like it actually was, or you gotta just change the name and admit that you’re making up a new character to tell the story you’d rather tell. Nothing wrong with that either; I imagine the fictional Kyle probably resonates with a lot of real soldiers who really did feel more conflicted than he did. But you can’t have both — you can’t do a character study about a real person and then change the stuff you find unappealing about them. It’s no longer an actual character study then, more like wish fulfillment.

  48. I am a little surprise that there haven’t been more exposes about Kyle’s tendency for tall tales. I’ve read a few articles about him lying about hitting Jesse Ventura and shooting people during Hurricane Katrina, but they were mostly published on online periodicals. I watched Ventura interviewed on CNN following the jury finding that he was slandered, and many of the questions were accusatory against Ventura. The reporters wanted to know why Ventura–who was slandered as someone who wished his fellow soldiers were killed in combat–wanted to sue poor Chris Kyle and his widow. It was surreal. In fact, I think I’ve read more stories about Selma’s supposed inaccuracies regarding LBJ in major newspapers than I have about discrepancies between Kyle’s claims and the film. Since the film is a huge hit and it’s up for best picture, you would think that journalists would be all over this story. My guess is that the film is being used as a litmus test of your patriotism by some people, so more mainstream journalists are averse to criticizing the film and especially reluctant to criticize Chris Kyle.

  49. Well, here’s the rub friendo. There exists NO moral obligation to revere ANYONE, as a “hero who defended us” or otherwise. And that holds, like it or not, for elite combat warriors and civil rights champions alike. Though I don’t think “MLK … booooo!” is where the referenced vet was comin from (as the apparent acknowledgement of “…racial sins of the past…” as sins, doesn’t quite seamlessly mesh with the bigot mold), even if he did hold Dr Martin Luther King/his accomplishments in less than reverent or even “who cares” regard, he’d be just as entitled to do so as… anyone holding Chris Kyle/his accomlishments in the same such regards. That is to say, it can no more be logically asserted that holding such a view is manifestly, inherently racist or un-American.

  50. Rogue4 – I didn’t say he wasn’t entitled to his opinion, I said that I found his opinion disgusting. I assert my entitlement to my opinion about his opinion.

    Subtlety – If you’re interested enough I recommend that Q&A podcast I linked to at the bottom, a longform interview with the screenwriter. Whether or not you agree with his choices I think it tells alot about why the movie is how it is. The short version is that he actually wrote the movie separately of the book, and when he did read the book he didn’t think it reflected the guy he knew. He says it was dictated at bars by a bitter man 6 months home from a decade at war.

  51. Vern — huh, that’s interesting. I guess considering Kyle’s tendency to self-mythologize, it’s possible that he actually presented himself as much more cold and hardcore in his autobiography than he actually was in real life. That’s something I hadn’t really considered. I’ll take a listen to that podcast; should I wait til I see the film first, though?

  52. Oh yeah, I guess it won’t make that much sense without seeing the movie. Check it out if you do, though.

  53. Well I guess the obvious thing for Clint to do now (apart from buying a wig) is to make a trilogy. The next movies should be about Lyudmila Pavlychenko and Simo Hayha. So it will be; American Sniper, Russian Sniper and Sniper to the Finnish! My favorite fictional sniper in movies is School Boy from Rambo. You didn’t leave? This is what we do. I mean who throws Rambos own (very few) words back at him?

    Mouth – I really liked Seal Tream Six I thought it was awesome. Everyone was going on about Zero Dark Thirty; Kathryn Bigelow, great movie, controversy, Jessica Chastain is going to be a big star. I was streaming Seal Team Six off Netflix and saying, wow there’s Xzibit! Oh my god it’s Clare from 90210!! The only complaint I could find about the movie was that the cars obviously had Indian instread of Pakistan license plates and honestly, that wasn’t a deal breaker for me. Have you ever seen Bravo Two Zero? It’s a made for tv British movie with Sean Bean.

    Majestyk – Did you survive Snowageddon? Should we get some crowdfunding going for some food and a new metrocard?

  54. I survived the snowpacalypse just fine, Michael, thanks for asking. Truth be told, I abandoned ship on NYC the week before last after 15 years in the city. I’m back on my home turf of New England, where people don’t freak out and get into shootouts in Home Depot when it snows more than six inches. I work from home at the moment so it’s actually been quite pleasant to look out the window while I write and see great drifts of snow that haven’t been yellowed by pit bull piss or browned by Starbucks spillage.

  55. Oh no, you don’t live in New York anymore?

  56. Nope. I got some business to take care of there that should take me a couple weeks, but after that, I’m a tourist like everyone else. I love New York and I feel like in my heart, I’ll always be a New Yorker, but I just got sick of being broke and angry all the time. I’m not getting any younger and New York is no place to save for the future. It’s a place for the young and/or wealthy, and I’m neither. Time to leave it for the next generation.

  57. It’s 10 years ago today that Clint threatened to kill Michael Moore if he ever turned up at his house. Moore writes pretty insightful about it on facebook. Check it out.

  58. Gee, that Michael Moore post has got me thinking and I don’t like what I’m thinking.

    AMERICAN SNIPER whether intentional or not making Chris Kyle into a conservative “martyr”, galvanizing the Right and rewriting history in their minds as Iraq being “justified”, with the political situation in the world getting hairier and hairier it’s a frightening thought.

    What it says to me though that America is a country that never, ever, ever learns from it’s mistakes and one day that’s gonna us, it’s gonna cost us big time.

  59. Gee, that Michael Moore post has got me thinking and I don’t like what I’m thinking.

    AMERICAN SNIPER whether intentional or not making Chris Kyle into a conservative “martyr”, galvanizing the Right and rewriting history in their minds as Iraq being “justified”, with the political situation in the world getting hairier and hairier it’s a frightening thought.

    What it says to me though that America is a country that never, ever, ever learns from it’s mistakes and one day that’s gonna cost us, it’s gonna cost us big time.

  60. Iraq was always justified in their minds. I’d be more concerned if people in the center or even some in the left started thinking that way, but I don’t see that happening. This movie is just preaching to the choir, in their own minds. I haven’t seen it but that’s my impression from what I’m reading about the Right’s reaction to it.

  61. I’ve always seen myself as a hard and cynical man, but now I really feel sorry for Michael Moore.

  62. Majestyk – well its a shame in the sense that I will miss your little asides about living in New Amsterdam, but good for you dude!!! I imagine it would be impossible to save money there. Jeter retired, they traded Shump and HBA shit is weak, they can keep that!

  63. Colorful complaints are the only thing holding New York City together, Michael. I will miss them, too, but not having as much to complain about is kinda better in a lot of ways, I’m finding.

  64. Hey Vern, thought you’d find this interesting. I recently watched Older Than America in my Indigenous cinema class, and my teacher told us that it was retitled “American Evil” in the U.K. So the retitling even included “American” in the title, just to add one more “American” to the list.

  65. Anybody else who wish Clint would stop talking now?

  66. Oh no, what’d he do this time?

  67. I came to terms with the fact that Eastwood may be well past senile a long time ago. For the most part I’ll still go see his movies as long as he makes them. Ironically I didn’t see this one. Don’t plan to either.

  68. Griff:

    http://www.yahoo.com/movies/clint-eastwood-on-michael-moore-feud-why-he-wont-117119709477.html

    Basically just Clint being Clint. He’s not reticent, that’s for damn sure.

  69. The Original Paul

    April 24th, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    I like Moore, but honestly I think he would probably be more insulted if Clint DIDN’T threaten to shoot him. He’d be like “Wait, I didn’t even get a death threat from that guy? What’d I do wrong?”

  70. I´ve always liked the stuff Michael Moore has done. His book STUPID WHITE MEN is one of my all time favourite books, but he is a bit of a dick himself.

  71. I learned a long time ago not to listen to much to Clint’s personal opinions. But I must admit it kind of depresses me that he still caters so much to the…there’s no way to put this politely…moronic side of his fan base.

    Shoot, I haven’t seen or heard anything from Michael Moore that puts him in the dick department. But you judge a democracy by how it treats it’s critics. And it’s a shame how Moore has been treated over the years.

  72. Finally saw this one – I hate how it’s become so politicized (by both sides – my more-liberal-than-me friends literally scoffed when I said I was watching it), but at the end of the day it’s a really good movie. Massively entertaining, fast moving, emotionally involving – it has a slight shaggy quality to it but I found myself really moved at the end (probably helped by the completely silent end credits sequence, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before).

    I am still boggled at how big a hit this has become – there’s only one real famous person in the movie, the director isn’t really a selling point anymore (I entirely forgot about the existence of Jersey Boys which only came out a few months before this!), it’s rated R, didn’t have IMAX or 3D upcharges, and it’s about an unpopular subject matter nobody really wants to think about. I figured this would do Lone Survivor business, not Marvel movie business.

  73. Crushinator Jones

    June 24th, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Why wouldn’t it be successful? It’s an extremely jingoistic film that links 9/11 to Iraq and takes America’s actual role – that of the aggressor that invaded the wrong country and inflicted horrific damage on innocent people – and turns it into a movie about heroism, protection and duty. There’s only a sliver of actual truth in the film. The main bad guys are “the Butcher” an amalgamation of one of the worst Iraqi warlords who never got anywhere near the real Kylie, and “Mustafa” a literal black-hat bad guy who shoots civilians and got one paragraph in the book. It’s a movie that takes a very uncomfortable and stupid American decision – to piss away trillions on invading the wrong country, completely destroying it and setting off a civil war that has killed a million people – and turned it into a meditation on heroism in the face of laughably lopsided monsters. Of course it’s going to be successful. And it’s going to taint how people remember the Iraq War in the same way that the show 24 made people accept torture.

    http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/american-sniper/

  74. Crushinator — While I won’t argue about the historical accuracy of the film, do you really think it’s fair to charge any work of art with definitively shaping people’s beliefs about real life and recent history? I mean, if people really do decide that AMERICAN SNIPER is the be-all-end-all document of a decade of American foreign policy, in spite of the hundreds of thousands of other media works on the subject, I’m rather of the opinion that it’s their fault, not the movie’s fault.

  75. Crushinator Jones

    June 24th, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Mr. Subtlety, that’s a good point and an excellent question. It’s not a question of “fault”, it’s more like…disappointment that there’s this film that panders to peoples’ bad natures and bad instincts.

    If Clint didn’t do it somebody else would have. A hagiography of Iraq as a Good War was going to happen. I know that. It’s still disappointing.

  76. Crushinator Jones

    June 24th, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Let me say something else and link this into something current and something that neal2zod said: he says “how could this have been a big hit?” and I just want to point out that this is a country that just started having a conversation about how maybe we should stop displaying and venerating a flag that is the symbol of treason and white supremacy. I love American culture in many ways and it has many good points but self-reflection is not the American way. Reinvention is.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/

  77. Crushinator Jones – the thing, the kind of people who would ever think Iraq was a “good war” are the kind of people that thought it was good as it was going on, completely forgot it ever happened once Obama took office and were only reminded by AMERICAN SNIPER which only served to reaffirm their belief, not change their mind.

  78. Watching this, I couldn’t get one thought out of my head – if they ever make a biopic of Robin Williams, Bradley Cooper would be perfect to play him.

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