American Sniper: Partisan Rorschach Test

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘American Sniper’ smashes records with $90M weekend.

Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” ignited the holiday weekend box office, leaving January records behind as it made a stunning $90.2 million in three days.Following six Oscar nominations, including for best picture, best actor and best adapted screenplay, the film about America’s deadliest sniper in Iraq continued to pull in crowds across the country.WESTWOOD (CBSLA.com) — A pair of celebrity personalities are under fire after making controversial remarks over the film “American Sniper” over Twitter. The total easily topped the previous January high, James Cameron’s “Avatar” at $68 million in 2010.Warner Bros. estimates that “American Sniper” will make $105 million over the four-day Martin Luther King weekend, which would be another record. “This is staggering.

The film, a true story directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the US military’s most prolific sniper, made headlines after smashing box office records with a $90 million weekend. It’s blockbuster numbers in January, the sort of numbers usually reserved for summer films and superhero movies,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst for Rentrak. “No one saw this coming. Director Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” simply explains the “plight” of the soldier, he told the Daily Beast, providing a “character study about a soldier.” But this was no ordinary soldier. Actor Seth Rogen took to Twitter, stating that the film reminded him of a scene in the WWII picture ‘Inglorious Basterds’, in which a Nazi propaganda film is being shown. “Oscar voters like controversy,” Johnson said. “They like to give the award to controversial films, but they don’t necessarily like giving awards to divisive films.”

The gulf accommodates hindsight since, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Wars are not paid for in wartime, the bill comes later.” It also allows the spectator to digest it in palatable, abstract terms, since the true horrors of war cannot be fathomed by the uninitiated mind. The film has been building an audience and blasting any projections all weekend.” The $105 million tally is more than double what analysts were expecting,Dergarabedian says. It marks director Eastwood’s biggest debut, surpassing “Gran Torino,” which earned $29.5 million in 2008. “American Sniper” topped that with Friday’s $30.5 million opening. Local comedy Si Accettano Miracoli took the number three position with $2.28 million, after its extraordinary New Years release, which brought in $8.5 million in one week.

It took three to four years from the fall of Saigon for movies like Deer Hunter, Coming Home, and Apocalypse Now to examine the costly toll of the Vietnam War. The estimated IMAX total on 332 screens for the four-day weekend is $11.5 million (yet another record). “American Sniper,” with Bradley Cooper starring as Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle, initially opened in December to packed theaters in limited release — making nearly $3.4 million on a handful of screens in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas. Despite having the biggest opening of the year in Italy, Si Accettano Miracoli’s total at $16.69 million has also been overtaken by American Sniper, which has brought in $18.08 million in the country to date. On February 2, 2013, the warrior was gunned down at a shooting range in his native Texas by Eddie Ray Routh, a PTSD-stricken Marine Corps veteran who later made off with Kyle’s Ford F-350. “I traded my soul for a new truck,” Routh reportedly told his sister following his arrest.

The film, based on the beloved bear star of the children’s books, scored well with critics (98% approval on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (87%) alike. New York Magazine branded it “a Republican platform movie,” while The Hollywood Reporter saw it as “a companion piece—in subject, theme and quality—to The Hurt Locker.” Meanwhile, “Hanoi Jane” Fonda came away impressed, labeling it “powerful” and “another view of Coming Home,” whereas Michael Moore, who famously denounced the Iraq War and then-President George W. Bush while accepting an Oscar in 2003, said, “I think most Americans don’t think snipers are heroes.” This is Eastwood’s view of the world laid bare, with Kyle assuming the role of the existential hero, like The Man with No Name, Harry Callahan, and Will Munny before him.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Eastwood took the stage at the Republican National Convention and, over the course of 12 mystifying minutes, addressed an empty chair representing President Barack Obama. “And when somebody does not do the job, we got to let ‘em go,” he said to Imaginary Barry, before capping things off with his infamous Dirty Harry quote. Appropriately, director Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” rounded out the top five films with $8.3 million for the three-day weekend, and an estimated $10.3 million for the full MLK holiday.

And then there were the tales Kyle told about himself, which came under increasing suspicion after numerous journalists tried — and failed — to corroborate them. Film critic Roger Ebert called the improvised speech “sad and pathetic,” while Ben Affleck told this very reporter, “He didn’t kill with the speech, but I by no means thought it was a huge embarrassment.” And in Double Down, a book chronicling the 2012 Republican campaign, it was revealed that during Eastwood’s soliloquy, one of Mitt Romney’s senior strategists had to excuse himself to vomit in a trash can.

American Sniper is Eastwood’s first directorial effort since that highly publicized gaffe to be viewed through this hyper-politicized lens (you’re better off forgetting Jersey Boys ever happened). And he also falsely claimed that he punched out former Minnesota governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura after Ventura, a former special forces operative himself, disparaged the U.S. Its opening ritualistic chant of Allāhu Akbar is designed to send chills up people’s spines, and before you can say, “welcome to hell,” we’re dropped into the heart of the Iraqi insurgency. Like any first-person shooter game, we assume Kyle’s POV through his sniper scope—a perspective boosted by a match cut to a 10-year-old Kyle picking off a deer. It’s a lesson journalist Rania Khalek, who calls objectivity “bulls–t” on her Twitter profile, learned days ago when she let loose with a series of tweets that took aim at Chris Kyle.

Kyle, we learn, was raised to be an American hero since birth. “There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs,” preaches his father. “Now, some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world… those are the sheep. She highlighted several passages in Kyle’s book, also named “American Sniper.” “Savage, despicable evil,” Kyle wrote. “That’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy ‘savages.’ There really was no other way to describe what we encountered there.” He later added: “There’s another question people ask a lot: ‘Did it bother you killing so many people in Iraq?’ I tell them, ‘No.’ … I loved what I did. … I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun.” To Khalek, any movie that lionizes Kyle represents “dangerous propaganda that sanitizes a mass killer and rewrites the Iraq War.” She said Kyle was consumed by a “unrepentant bloodlust” fueled by “hatred, bigotry and enthusiasm for killing Iraqi ‘savages.’” Khalek got death threats almost immediately for her comments.

DO ALL A FAVOR..GO KILL YOURSELF.” Or, as the left-wing website Alternet commented after posting an article critical of Kyle: “This kicked off an endless flood in our Twitter mentions of outraged right-wing military worshipers who’ve whipped themselves into a hateful frenzy out of blind obedience to a mass killer.” Even those who were less incendiary were met online venom. But that wasn’t before he got walloped: “Amazing considering guys like Kyle are the reason you’re not sitting in a NKorean prison right now,” one person told him. But, he added, “most of us were taught the story of Jesse James and that the scoundrel wasn’t James (who was a criminal who killed people) but rather the sniper who shot him in the back. Hopefully not on this weekend when we remember that man in Memphis, Tennessee, who was killed by a sniper’s bullet.” Sarah Palin got into it, excoriating “Hollywood leftists” for “spitting on the graves of freedom fighters who allow you to do what you do, just realize the rest of American knows you’re not fit to shine Chris Kyle’s combat boots.” The exchanges are just the latest eruption in a long culture war, analysts said. “As screenings have sold out, conservative media has manned barricades against liberals who have attacked the movie or the idea of lionizing Kyle,” conservative David Weigel wrote for Bloomberg. He noted that much of the controversy involves the extended battle over guns–and gun control–and pro-Iraq war conservatives versus anti-war liberals.

The number of Americans who have served in the Armed Services continues to decrease, many have commented upon what appears to be a growing cultural divide between civilians and combat veterans. Today fewer than .5 percent do, and many belong to a demographic that military analyst Thomas Ricks called “socially isolated, politically conservative.” That growing chasm has resulted in a modern America in which few grant much thought to soldiers, except for ritualized reverence of their service. If there’s any cultural force that exacerbate misunderstandings, its movies like “American Sniper,” according to Karl Eikenberry and David Kennedy in the New York Times in 2013.

He shoots her. “There was a kid who barely had any hair on his balls, his mother gives him a grenade and sends him out there to kill Marines,” a shaken Kyle says ex post facto. “Dude, that was evil like I’d never seen before.” Here is where critics of the film have an ax to grind. Kyle and his fellow cowboys constantly refer to their enemies, who are all seemingly al-Qaeda, as “savages.” The “savages” consist of al-Zarqawi, who’s introduced via the infamous clip of him decapitating Nick Berg; his No. 2, “The Butcher,” who brutally executes an informant’s young son by drilling his head with a power tool, and stores people’s heads on shelves; and Mustafa, a Syrian Olympic sharpshooter who videotapes his kills and hawks bootlegs of them on the street.

Mustafa is, like all classic villains, dressed in black, doesn’t utter in a word, and is single-minded in his pursuit of Kyle—he has a poster of Kyle’s bounty, $180,000, on his wall, and spends his spare time spinning an armor-piercing bullet on a table. His PTSD at first manifests itself in high blood pressure, and complaints to Taya of how everyone in suburbia is living their lives blissfully unaware of the chaos unraveling overseas, and the men laying down their lives for their country.

Kyle gets better after visiting the VA and helping injured veterans shoot—a process called “exposure therapy,” subjecting the patient to the feared object or scenario without any danger so that they’ll conquer their fears. We see Taya slowly closing the door on Kyle and Routh as they get in his truck and head towards the gun range, and then the film cuts to black, followed by the message: “Chris Kyle was killed that day by a veteran he was trying to help.” The closing credits are accompanied by moving footage of Kyle’s real-life funeral procession and images from his memorial service at Cowboys Stadium. They’ll wonder how Clint “we’re always hoping every [war] is the last one” Eastwood could helm a film that is, as The New Yorker called it, “both a devastating war movie and a devastating antiwar movie.” But American Sniper isn’t a documentary.

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