American Sniper

January 18, 2015 at 6:43 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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Well, it’s going to be hard to argue with success. This movie has just had the highest box office earnings ever for a January weekend (in fact, it was a blow out). As Stephen Colbert would say, “the market has spoken.” Yet, I still kinda wanna argue. So, here is how I would parse it out: this is not the film to see if you are looking for a nuanced examination of our recent wars. Chris Kyle, upon whose autobiography the film is based, was not a man accustomed to moral ambiguities; there were good guys and bad buys, rights and wrongs and he knew which side he was on. That tone (and all it implies) permeates this movie. This is a hero’s tale and has an epic battle between hero and villain that results in a showdown in a dusty, one-horse town that (thematically) could have been right out of a Clint Eastwood western. And, make no mistake, Eastwood is going for big themes here; on this canvas, Kyle is a modern Odysseus. Perhaps he is. He saved many American lives, at times at great risk to his own. He had courage and skill and a sense of honor that cannot be dismissed and must not be minimized. And, if you want a modern American hero, this may be exactly the story for you. Yet, I could not help but feel hemmed in by the film’s agenda. Are there no uncertainties about the good of having likely killed more than 250 people? Is there not a story to tell about how some Iraqis might perceive us as a hostile occupying army? Of course there is but just not here. As I said, this is not a film that wishes to explore ambiguity. So, if you can understand and accept that lens, there is much of value in this movie. Bradley Cooper continues to prove his versatility and depth as an actor and he portrays Kyle’s moral certitude and later emotional detachment effectively. In fact, in the mid to later half of the film, we get to see the war’s cumulative effect on Kyle. These are the movie’s best moments. The cost to soldiers both physically and emotionally is made very clear and I was prompted several times to think of “The Hurt Locker.” In moments, this film goes deeper than that one, though (for me) the moral ambiguities of that film were more evocative in the end. It is at the end of “American Sniper” that the audience can most clearly see Eastwood’s message; an epic tale requires the epic ending and this one came straight out of “Beowulf.” I don’t blame Eastwood and I certainly don’t blame Kyle. Every opinion is valid and their points are strong ones. Who knows, they may be right. I just think that, personally, I identify more with uncertainty. Had the filmed gone there, it might have resonated more with me.

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