‘American Sniper’ is No. 1 on USA TODAY’s list

22 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘American Sniper’ Is Almost Too Dumb to Criticize.

‘Sniper’ sizzles: American Sniper by Chris Kyle shoots to No. 1, as the movie sets January box office records and rides high after six Oscar nominations, including best picture. “American Sniper,” a box-office sensation that earned a surprising $107 million over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, involves guns and the Iraq war.Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle – America’s deadliest sniper – in , which has taken more dollars than top grossing war film but is 11th when adjusting for the prices of tickets over time.Heroism on the battlefield had never gone away, of course, far from it (witness the Medals of Honor awarded for acts of extraordinary valor in Iraq and Afghanistan).Barack Obama was 15 minutes into his State of the Union speech when I arrived home to watch it, having just walked back from seeing “American Sniper.” Watching a movie about a Navy SEAL who served four tours fighting in Iraq was not the best way to enhance the experience of a Barack Obama speech.

Most people who are having a negative reaction to the film “American Sniper,” or to excerpts from the book it’s based on, seem to take umbrage at the fact that Chris Kyle “brags” about the number of lives he took and the situations in which he took them — or they’re offended by the glorification with which director Clint Eastwood depicts his story. Like most Clint Eastwood movies – and I like Clint Eastwood movies for the most part – it’s a simple, well-lit little fairy tale with the nutritional value of fortune cookie that serves up a neatly-arranged helping of cheers and tears for target audiences, and panics at the thought of embracing more than one or two ideas at any time. During my time on active duty in the Marine Corps, I encountered death in a multitude of ways — from trying to stop it, as my fellow Marines and I worked on our maimed and wounded after a terrible mortar accident, to watching it live via drone footage, as a high-value Taliban commander sheltered in a compound just as we slammed a missile into his living room. Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss, Paul Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah and Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone asked searching questions about the human costs of America’s post-9/11 interventions—questions that echoed through near-empty theaters. It’s spent 58 weeks on the list; its previous high was No. 2, just last week. (The full best-seller list will publish on Thursday.) Sniper knocks another movie tie-in, Unbroken, out of the top spot it had held for five consecutive weeks.

Because Clint Eastwood directed “American Sniper” the movie is about more than the story of Chris Kyle, the highly skilled rifle marksman from Texas. Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty presented the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden far more ambiguously, as moral crucibles that tested their heroes’ strength of character much as these conflicts have tested the nation’s. It earned a record $US89 million ($108.32 million), according to Box Office Mojo — and over $US105 million ($127.79 million) if you include all four days of the extended weekend. (This was the film’s “debut,” though it was in a few theaters in 2014 so that it would be eligible for the Oscars.) The film also broke records in IMAX theatres in the United States, earning more than $10.6 million at 332 locations, according to Australian distributor Roadshow. Film-industry people angrily reject the notion that their movies have to be about anything (except things like “character” and “narrative” and “arc,” subjects they can talk about endlessly).

And just like that, is the second-biggest success in Eastwood’s directorial career, only about $US50 million ($60.85 million) behind 2008’s Gran Torino. Eastwood presented two movies about the famous World War II battle of Iwo Jima. “Letters from Iwo Jima” told the story from the perspective of Japanese soldiers, and “Flags of Our Fathers” from the Americans’ side. But last weekend, a defiantly unambiguous Iraq war movie—Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, based on the bestselling memoir of legendary sharpshooter Chris Kyle—mopped the floor with everything else currently playing in theaters.

The Clint Eastwood-directed movie also has lit up Twitter, with Hollywood and political celebrities such as Seth Rogen, Michael Moore and Sarah Palin duking it out. The late Navy SEAL sniper had already written a best-selling memoir and was known as “The Legend” within the military for his record number of confirmed kills during four tours in Iraq. Eastwood shows how Kyle dehumanized the enemy and how he almost completely ignored the larger picture involving all of the issues surrounding the war in Iraq. The movie earned a huge $107 million its opening weekend in wide release, surprising pundits. ‘Train’ on a roll: All those comparisons to Gone Girl (No. 5) sure didn’t hurt. Why is American Sniper touching so many nerves, provoking so many big statements and confusing qualifiers, selling so many tickets, and provoking such partisan bluster?

The thing is, the mere act of trying to make a typically Hollywoodian one-note fairy tale set in the middle of the insane moral morass that is/was the Iraq occupation is both dumber and more arrogant than anything George Bush or even Dick Cheney ever tried. Marines who fought al Qaeda in Fallujah, Ramadi and the other towns of Iraq’s Anbar province beginning in 2003 and through the period of the Anbar Awakening, which ended with the Marines pacifying the province.

The former Army sniper, who was his battalion’s sniper section leader before he was done, offered up four key pieces of advice for mastering long-range shooting with a rifle — so shooters, pay attention. It’s been, after all, nearly a dozen years since the invasion of Iraq and almost as long since most of the country—including many who had initially supported the war, and many who fought in it—began to realize with dawning horror that our intervention there was turning into a bloody and directionless quagmire. The novel, released in hardcover on Jan. 13, is a debut thriller from England, and tells the twisty story of damaged marriages and the troubled young people in them. No one expected twenty minutes of backstory about the failed WMD search, Abu Ghraib, or the myriad other American atrocities and quick-trigger bombings that helped fuel the rise of ISIL and other groups. It’s just a movie, so even “American Sniper’s” small slice only hints at the price America paid—some 3,500 combat deaths and another 32,000 wounded—to bring Iraq to a point of relative, if fragile, stability in 2011.

It might seem like it goes without saying, but making sure your rifle is well-sighted — or making sure it has a proper “zero,” is one of the most vital aspects of long distance shooting, Betts told TheBlaze. “First things first,” Betts began, taking a deep breath. “You have to have a proper zero on your rifle. The average American has no idea the mental toll it takes on their soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines just to be ready to pull the trigger with another human in your sights, let alone to actually do it. We pulled data on a number of well-known war movies (for which box office data was available) to see how it stacked up. is still young and is going up against some of the best-regarded movies of all time: Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket, Ben Affleck’s Pearl Harbour. (That last one is a joke!) Movies that come out closer to the wars they depict seem to do a little better, though that’s just an observation. American Sniper explores the psychic damage war inflicts on soldiers; the addictive nature of high-stakes battle (Bradley Cooper’s Kyle insists on returning to Iraq for four full tours of duty); and the difficulty of integrating back into everyday family life upon returning from a war zone. Publisher Riverhead won’t release sales figures but says more than 250,000 copies of Train are in print and the novel is already in a 10th printing. (USA TODAY’s data shows the e-book outselling print.) DreamWorks has bought film rights.

The kinds of easy aphorisms that look so sexy on Twitter and have fueled the current debate regarding “Sniper.” Eastwood’s films respect and explore conservative ideals without promoting them. Every one of these issues has been dealt with, often with more nuance and depth, in other movies about returning vets. (I’m thinking in particular of two fine recent dramas about female soldiers back from war, both directed by women: Liza Johnson’s Return and Claudia Myers’ Fort Bliss.) But Eastwood’s high-octane war thriller does offer something all those Iraq-vet movies don’t—and it isn’t just red meat for the red-state audiences who share Eastwood’s conservative political leanings. But what is just not possible to choke down is President Obama’s decision in 2011 to reduce the U.S.’s residual military presence to virtually zero. But at 1,000 meters, you are talking about 10 inches already.” Inexperienced shooters should either research how to properly zero a rifle or seek help from a professional.

These are the sanitized phrases we use to keep ourselves sane as we turn off the emotion that would come from actually killing another human being (the emotions come later). American Sniper is by no stretch a critique of the U.S. involvement in Iraq; Eastwood leaves larger questions of politics and policy entirely outside the frame of his story, an approach not uncommon in modern war films of any political stripe. Eastwood himself now is being accused of jingo-ism, with “Sniper.” But that’s not his filmmaking M.O. “Sniper” is not jingoistic, but rather a complex character study of a combatant, and of how violence insinuates itself into one’s soul – an Eastwood topic of interest since at least “Unforgiven.” I gave “Sniper” a positive review when it opened Jan. 16.

Actor Seth Rogen compared “American Sniper” to the Nazi propaganda film featured in the movie “Inglourious Basterds.” Director Michael Moore tweeted that he’d been taught to consider snipers cowards. But it doesn’t feel right, either, to classify this somber, disturbing film as a red-white-and-blue-bunting–draped piece of feel-good propaganda—the kind of film New York’s David Edelstein has called a “Republican platform movie.” American Sniper (which was written by Jason Hall) has a perspective that’s recognizable from the classic Westerns Eastwood has long been associated with, both as an actor and a director. Kyle “was a hate-filled killer,” according to The Guardian, which also deems him “a racist who took pleasure in dehumanizing and killing brown people.” Chris Kyle enjoyed combat, as he makes clear in his book.

Griggs added, in a review that must make Eastwood swell with pride, that the root of the film’s success is that “it’s about a real person,” and “it’s a human story, not a political one.” The characters in Eastwood’s movies almost always wear white and black hats or their equivalents, so you know at all times who’s the good guy on the one hand, and whose exploding head we’re to applaud on the other. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to breathing techniques, shooters should definitely find their preference and master it so their breathing doesn’t result in accuracy. “Some guys have it where it’s going to be on the full inhale, others on the full exhale, and some do it in between,” he explained. “It’s all about finding your natural shooting position. When I was on the ground in Afghanistan, I wasn’t thinking about the greater good of the Afghan people, about spreading democracy or about root-beer floats on the 4th of July. In this case that effect is often literal, with “hero” sniper Chris Kyle’s “sinister” opposite Mustafa permanently dressed in black (with accompanying evil black pirate-stubble) throughout.

But you don’t want to hold your breath because you’ll start getting shaky, your heart is going to start elevating and there is more and more shoot error.” The veteran said shooters should remember that any mistakes become increasingly exaggerated the more distance there is between the shooter and the target. With more cinematic craft than he’s displayed in a while, Eastwood makes the viewer alternate between fear for Kyle’s life and fear for the lives of the people who cross through his gun sights—more than once, women or children, whom he must decide whether or not to shoot based only on fragments of unreliable information. The occasion: the publication this month of Saint Odd, the conclusion to Koontz’s popular seven-book series about Odd Thomas, the fry cook who can see the spirits of the dead. These are welcome qualities in a warrior, no matter how offensive they might be to people who will never be entrusted with the responsibility of making life-and-death decisions in real time while in mortal danger.

Much is made of Kyle calling the people he killed “damn savages.” The description is typically salty (Kyle had a taste for pitch-black dark humor), but inarguably apt. There’s obligatory somber scene of shirtless buffed-up SEAL Kyle and his heartthrob wife Sienna Miller gasping at the televised horror of the 9/11 attacks.

On the contrary—the toll Kyle’s military service takes on his mental and emotional health, and the damage his unacknowledged PTSD does to his marriage to the devoted but fraying Taya (Sienna Miller), becomes the almost exclusive focus of the second half of the movie. Which of course there had not been, until we invaded and bombed the wrong country and turned its moonscaped cities into a recruitment breeding ground for… you guessed it, al-Qaeda. In January, months before that West Point speech, the terrorist army of Islamic State, or ISIS, seized back control of both Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province. He explained how he would break them of the bad habit: What I would do is, I would either put a bullet in there or I wouldn’t put a bullet in there.

The tension in their marriage feels almost like the lead-up to a psychological horror film about domestic violence—at least until an unconvincingly easy late-movie reversal, in which Kyle somehow lifts himself out of paralyzing anxiety and depression without ever acknowledging the hold they had on him. They skipped that chicken-egg dilemma in the film, though, because it would detract from the “human story.” Eastwood plays for cheap applause and goes super-dumb even by Hollywood standards when one of Kyle’s officers suggests that they could “win the war” by taking out the evil sniper who is upsetting America’s peaceful occupation of Sadr City. When hunky Bradley Cooper’s Kyle character subsequently takes out Mustafa with Skywalkerian long-distance panache – “Aim small, hit small,” he whispers, prior to executing an impossible mile-plus shot – even the audiences in the liberal-ass Jersey City theater where I watched the movie stood up and cheered. If there was no round in there and I’d see them flinch or anticipate or whatever, I’d kick them in the head and say, ‘Hey! listen, the gun’s not going to kill you.

Cooper’s Chris Kyle is a troubled, taciturn hunk who, even as his mental condition gets worse, never fully loses his core warmth and humanity, whereas the real-life man he’s based on was by many accounts a fairly unsavory human being. You know what to do with it.” Betts also suggested shooters who are truly interested in improving their rifle shooting to practice in various environments and conditions. Lee that can sum up what I believe is the truest and purest theme from “American Sniper”: “It is well that war is so terrible — lest we should grow too fond of it.” He said he would regularly sit prone with his unloaded rifle, train his sights on a target and squeeze the trigger to make sure his aim and fundamentals were on point.

In fact the occupation led to mass destruction, hundreds of thousands of deaths, a choleric lack of real sanitation, epidemic unemployment and political radicalization that continues to this day to spread beyond Iraq’s borders. While we talked guns, we also asked Betts if he had any thoughts on the several people who have bashed Chris Kyle’s “American Sniper” story — and in some cases, all snipers.

For myself, I found it powerful, touching, and only occasionally infuriating, and I think Americans who care about the way we remember the Iraq war—onscreen and off—should see it. His second election was a historic electoral mistake, leaving the country and the world to be led by a president who is living on his own fantasy island. That’s why he joined AmericanSnipers.org, a non-profit organization that provides operational equipment to American military snipers deployed in combat. One Academy member wondered to a reporter if Kyle (who in real life was killed by a fellow troubled vet in an eerie commentary on the violence in our society that might have made a more interesting movie) was a “psychopath.” Michael Moore absorbed a ton of criticism when he tweeted that “My uncle [was] killed by sniper in WW2. It’s equally dangerous to be seduced by the pathos and drama of the individual solider’s experience, because most wars are about something much larger than that, too.

They did this after Vietnam, when America spent decades watching movies like Deer Hunter and First Blood and Coming Home about vets struggling to reassimilate after the madness of the jungles. Obama said, “We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small.” But bullying is exactly what Russia’s Vladimir Putin is doing to Ukraine because Mr. The movies used the struggles of soldiers as a kind of human shield protecting us from thinking too much about what we’d done in places like Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos. Obama said we’ve “halted the progress of its nuclear program.” Slowed perhaps but no one thinks we’ve “halted” Iran’s multifacility nuclear-weapon and ballistic-missile project. Robert Menendez , the New Jersey foreign-policy Democrat, who sat bolted to his seat during the speech, said the next day that the administration’s talking points on Iran now sound “straight out of Tehran.” There is a lot of American flag in “American Sniper.” When Chris Kyle’s 2013 funeral procession drives down I-35 in Waco, people with American flags line the streets and overpasses.

But in public relations as in war, it’ll be the soldiers taking the bullets, not the suits in the Beltway who blithely sent them into lethal missions they were never supposed to understand.

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