Many miss the point of Eastwood’s ‘American Sniper’

23 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

7 enormous lies “American Sniper” is telling America.

Every war eventually gets the soldier’s tale its culture believes it deserves. The new biopic starring Bradley Cooper about a late Navy SEAL sniper named Chris Kyle is a huge box office hit, and funnyman Seth watched the picture like millions of other fans.Hollywood was shocked when last weekend ended and Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, a film about Chris Kyle — described everywhere as “the most lethal sniper in American military history” — not only was the top-grossing film in the country but took in over $100 million, the kind of number we ordinarily associate with superheroes or teenage girls fighting for their lives.

As “The Best Years of Our Lives” was to World War II and “Platoon” was to the Vietnam War, so Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” may be shaping up as the catharsis many Americans have been hoping would give voice to (or reflect, or justify, or lie further about) our involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. In a Twitter message he posted on January 18, Seth made the following observation about the feature: “American Sniper kind of reminds me of the movie that’s showing in the third act of Inglorious Basterds”. “It appears I need to further clarify a tweet I send a few days ago; I said a sniper movie kind of reminded me of a scene in another movie that involved a sniper movie.

One of the first salvos in the aftermath of the film’s record box office haul of $105 million over the holiday weekend came from Seth Rogen. “The Interview” actor took to Twitter to compare the film to the fake Nazi propaganda flick shown at the end of “Inglourious Basterds.” Baldwin, though, was quick to qualify his support for Rogen: “AMERICAN SNIPER is a better movie than THE INTERVIEW,” he added, with the hashtag, “#heyitsamoviesocalmdown.” Later on Thursday, Rogen apologized for stirring the controversy over the war movie, telling the Associated Press that he did not mean to offend anyone and that political implications were “ascribed to my comment by news commentary.” While the Clint Eastwood-directed “American Sniper” has received mostly positive reviews from critics and notched six Oscar nominations last week, it has been a lightning rod for political debate. Yet the film, the autobiography of the same name, and the reputation of Chris Kyle are all built on a set of half-truths, myths and outright lies that Hollywood didn’t see fit to clear up. 1. The Film Suggests the Iraq War Was In Response To 9/11: One way to get audiences to unambiguously support Kyle’s actions in the film is to believe he’s there to avenge the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I haven’t seen the film, so I don’t have any opinion about its content (though this lengthy IMDB summary explains the plot scene-by-scene if you’re interested).

Why audiences are hungry to see it, and what, exactly, they think they’re seeing are different, less settled questions. “American Sniper” is a complicated animal, one I think quite brilliantly shows how a fighting man’s certainty can founder on the actuality of dead women and children, the thirst for vengeance, and an increasingly clouded mission. But let’s accept that at least some of people who went to see American Sniper over the weekend chose that film because they perceived it as a patriotic act. As sympathetic as it is to the film’s title character, the late Chris Kyle, it’s a hero’s tale that questions what heroism means and that finds the usual definitions painfully lacking. Mustafa is mentioned in a single paragraph in Kyle’s book, but the movie blows him up into an ever-present figure and Syrian Olympic medal winner who fights for both Sunni insurgents in Fallujah and the Shia Madhi army. 3.

But because the movie has landed in the midst of a polarized cultural landscape, its message has been simplified and misunderstood on both sides of the divide. Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee, who it seems will be basing his presidential campaign on making himself the tribune of those burning with conservative cultural resentment, is out criticizing Beyoncé for dancing suggestively and singing lyrics that amount to “mental poison.” Few things are more edifying than politicians telling us what music we should be listening to or movies we should see. Great [expletive] movie and now I really want to kill some [expletive] ragheads.” From @dezmondharmon (since deleted), “American sniper makes me wanna go shoot some [expletive] Arabs,” with three cute little handgun emojis. This is the possible tip of an iceberg of a sizable percentage of “American Sniper” viewers who, confronted with the film’s intentionally conflicting signals — the fellow soldier whose letter home mourns a country that has lost its way, the mounting distress of Kyle’s wife and brother, the abject pain and anger reflected in Bradley Cooper’s body language and eyes as his tours grind on — retreat into the comfort of simpler pieties.

Groused one commenter on, “I watched this in amazement, was he supposed to be a hero?” No and yes; yes and no — you’re supposed to figure it out for yourself, fella. For instance, there’s almost an entire subgenre of country music devoted to singing the praises of country life and telling city folk where they can stick it.

Merle Haggard’s 1969 song “Okie From Muskogee” (“We don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy/like the hippies out in San Francisco do”) is the urtext of the genre. Or the clueless snobbery of The New York Times box office analyst who dismissed the film as “patriotic” “pro-family” fluff that only played well in the heartland. (A.

It sounds like he didn’t see the movie.) Worse was a writer for The New Republic, Dennis Jett, who spent four paragraphs trashing the movie before getting to this: “I have not seen ‘American Sniper.’ But if the trailer is any indication. . . .” To any responsible journalist, that’s grounds for dismissal. The Real Chris Kyle Fabricated A Story About Killing Two Men Who Tried To Carjack Him In Texas: Kyle told numerous people a story about killing two alleged carjackers in Texas. On the other hand, an advocate of unfettered gun rights couldn’t be happier with how often Hollywood sends the message that serious problems always have solutions that involve the righteous use of firearms. Memo to all those patriotic online thugs: Threatening to put a cap in someone you disagree with actually makes you one of “the bad guys.” ‘Sniper’ is a story told strictly from an American soldier’s point of view, with the relevant honesty, blind spots, dissonances, defensiveness, pride, professionalism, and self-loathing put out there for all to see. In most cases, those decisions are made not to make a point but because of more mundane considerations, like how to maximize the audiences advertisers want to reach.

Chris Kyle Was Successfully Sued For Lying About the Former Governor of Minnesota:Kyle alleged that former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura defamed Navy SEALs and got into a fight with him at a local bar. This puts the movie in a box with “Rambo: First Blood II” and other revisionist pop artifacts that seem specifically engineered to banish doubt and let us feel good about ourselves again. (And if there’s one thing that makes American audiences uncomfortable, it’s not feeling good about ourselves.) I disagree, even as I don’t dispute parts of this countervailing long view. But if you live in a small town in what you consider the heartland, you can take comfort in the fact that even if Hollywood doesn’t set too many dramas in towns like yours, everyone in politics will rush to exalt you, your superior values, and the place you live. Chris Kyle’s Family Claimed He Donated His Book Proceeds To Veterans’ Charity, But He Kept Most Of The Profits: The National Review debunks the claim that all proceeds of his book went to veterans’ charities. True, “Sniper” never questions the assumptions and faulty information that put us in Iraq in the first place, and for some that is reason enough to ignore or scorn the film.

Beyond that, there’s an innate understanding that anyone who wasn’t there — be they a filmmaker or a movie critic or an audience member or a bloviator on the right or the left — can never comprehend the experience, and that those who were there share an unbreakable, inexpressible bond. This backlash has reportedly spread among members of the Academy of Motion Picture of Arts and Sciences, which could threaten the film’s shot at racking up Oscars. Which hasn’t stopped us from using “American Sniper” as a hankie to weep uncomplicatedly in or a stick with which to bludgeon others, both responses at the expense of the mixed messages its maker intuitively and (I believe) consciously put there.

So many audiences are coming to this movie to have their beliefs mirrored and reconfirmed, holding on to the parts that jibe with what they want to see and tossing out the rest. Whether you’re listening to a neo-punk band you insist no one’s ever heard of or blasting the same Tim McGraw song coming out of every other pickup truck in a hundred-mile radius, you’re making a statement of identity you want others to hear. And if you feel that the dominant pop culture isn’t about you, you’ll be particularly interested in whatever you can find that is, or makes a statement you’d like to support.

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