As pundits I normally respect - from Ann Thompson (Thompson On Hollywood) to Michael Fleming (Deadline Hollywood) - fall all over themselves in praise of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, I fall deeper into despair.
“Any viewing that doesn't take away at least in part an anti-war message is missing the point,” writes Thompson. “…It is more a character study… and that seems to be a core of its appeal.”
Well, I’ve obviously missed “the point.”
Maybe I watched a different version, but the film called American Sniper that I saw showed Iraqi men, women and children mowed down like targets in an arcade game because, well, they’re all out to get us. I mean ALL of them.
Maybe that was the “point”: everyone over there hates us and wants to kill us.
If that’s the movie Clint wanted to make, who am I to say he shouldn’t make it? My issue is with the brainy types in the media who praise it as an “anti-war movie” or even a “character study.
Shortly after his introduction as a former cowboy, turned Navy Seal after watching the Twin Towers fall on TV, our Hero shoots a mother and child who are carrying a grenade. No hint is offered, before or after, as to why they might have wanted to blow up a troop of soldiers in the rubble of what used to be their village because, well, who cares? Ahh, but the character study unspools as our hero brushes off a congratulatory backslap in the aftermath. Sorry, that’s a cartoon not a character reveal. He might as well have shifted a cigar from one side of his mouth to the other.
Am I missing the “point?”
Audiences like their villains in black and heroes in white. I get that. But has the Eastwood mystique put Abu Ghraib-style hoods over the heads of all the smart people?
Apparently, the movie envisioned by Steven Spielberg who originally bought and developed Chris Kyle’s book would have taken a more nuanced approach. One can only conjecture from media reports how it would differ, but interviews with the screenwriter (Jason Hall) indicated that Spielberg’s version would have at least made the rival Iraqi sniper a fully dimensional human being. Clint apparently had no interest in that. Eastwood provides a glimpse of a photo of the sniper standing on a podium receiving a sharp-shooting medal. That’s all we need to know about this character. He’s a good shot. Let’s move on to Rambo getting PTSD.
It’s not just that there isn’t a single sympathetic Iraqi in the movie, there isn’t even an innocent victim of war (if you don’t count a father and son killed by a one-dimensional villain called The Butcher for talking to the Americans). The Iraqis are, as the American soldiers make a point of calling them, “savages.” Hey, kudos to Clint for making it clear what the American fighting man thinks of the local population.
Did I miss the point again?
An artist knows what kind of emotion he’s trying to evoke with his art. Was it Clint’s intention to make a movie for gung-ho morons who question nothing about this war? If so, why is the Hollywood intelligentsia lapping this up?
All these smart people fawning over the artist Clint Eastwood and I feel like the kid who slept through the lecture. His brilliant action scenes? Anyone who knows filmmaking should know that the second unit director, Robert Lorenz, shoots most of the action sequences. Surely, the praise is for Clint’s complex character study in which our Hero never questions his mission or learns anything from his experience. After 160 kills, his only regret is he couldn’t go back and kill more.
I wasn’t surprised to read how Sarah Palin loved this film. It’s got her sensibilities written all over it. But I’m questioning the smart kids in the class - the Thompsons, Flemings, even Jane Fonda who recently sent out a “Way to go, Clint” Tweet. She compared American Sniper to Coming Home. Get a grip, Jane.
A $105 million opening weekend would indicate a lot of people are up for seeing American troops kill people – Nazis, Gooks, Ragheads, name your favorite savage. That’s what war does I suppose: force the combatants to dehumanize the other side. But in a better movie like Jarhead we were witness to the dehumanizing process. And it wasn’t heroic.
As an American living overseas, I think American Sniper exemplifies the worst aspects of my country and its cultural exports.
If the “point” of this movie is anti-war, I’m completely missing the point. And if there’s a complex character in American Sniper, I guess I missed him too.
Before the Oscar nominations come out - and after turning in my nominating ballot last week (since you’re not supposed to discuss your vote beforehand) - I thought I’d share the results of my exhaustive movie-watching this awards season. Out of 140 movies sent by screener, iTunes or vimeo, I managed to watch over 100 - including a couple dozen in theaters the way you’re supposed to. Here are my favorite features of the year - with an addendum on a handful of notable disappointments.
TOP TEN – FEATURES
1. BIRDMAN – ***** - by far the most amazing film of the year. Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton brilliant.
2. A MOST VIOLENT YEAR – ***** - Oscar Isaacs is outstanding as an honest man in a violent NY blue collar business. Written & directed by the guy who made a brilliant movie about cut-throat white collar business, Margin Call.
3. INTERSTELLAR – ***** – Gravity x10. Terrific storytelling, visuals. McConaughey, Hathaway always great to watch.
4. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL - ***** - Wes Anderson sets the standard for quirky comedies.
5. BOYHOOD – ***** - brave in its ordinariness. A lyrical look at years passing without great drama or tragedy. Just life as it unfolds.
6. INTO THE WOODS – ***** - I’m a sucker for Sondheim and this is one of his most inventive. Performances and production are stunning.
7. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING - ***** - Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones in a surprisingly uplifting movie about love and life’s limitless possibilities.
8. NIGHTCRAWLER – ****1/2 – Riveting but makes you wanna take a bath after. Jake Gyllenhaal is scary good.
9. INHERENT VICE – ****1/2 - P.T. Anderson & Thomas Pynchon combine for a raunchy romp. Lots of hippie hijinks and much weirdness. Lebowski-esque.
10. WHIPLASH - ***** - What an intense movie experience! JK Simmons, MilesTeller just brilliant.
ROUNDING OUT TOP 20 - FEATURES:
SELMA – ****1/2 - A brilliant performance by David Oyelowo almost pulls this civil rights drama into the year’s elite circle. DEAR WHITE PEOPLE - ***** - Not even submitted for AMPAS voting but I loved it. Original, funny, insightful, topical & timely. THE IMITATION GAME - ****1/2 – fascinating story, wanted more about his life and inner struggles as gay man. Brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch.
KILL THE MESSENGER - ****1/2 – detailed, well-told tale of gov’t secrets & the cannibalistic world of journalism. Jeremy Renner. Another AMPAS omission.
ROSEWATER – ****1/2 - Jon Stewart has made an important, well-crafted tale of totalitarianism & what it takes to fight it.
A MOST WANTED MAN - **** - Worthy swan song for Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Political thriller w. chilling perf. by Robin Wright.
THE LEGO MOVIE - **** - Original, funny even for adults.
TRASH - ***** - A buried treasure! How brilliant is Stephen Daldry at directing kids? Watch this and see how it’s done. Slumdog Millionaire meets City of God meets The Goonies. No U.S. distribution and doesn’t open in U.K ‘til 30 Jan., 2015. Really belongs in Top 10.
IDA – ****1/2 – classic Euro ‘60s, from lingering two-shots to a two-for-the-road storyline w/ a Holocaust twist. Beautiful b&w cinematography of bleakest Poland.
GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIAN ANSALEM – **** - a little drawn out but shocking expose of religion in civil courts. Brilliant perf. by Ronit Elkabetz
WORST FILMS OF 2015 Rather than a list, permit me a brief rant about 2015 Films that got some decent reviews but left me cold. The coldest - and top of my list for Biggest Head Scratcher of 2015 - was AMERICAN SNIPER. Rambo gets a home life & PTSD. A pointless, racist, soulless exercise. Like a conversation with an empty chair. And by the way, anyone who knows anything about filmmaking should know that all the “action” sequences critics are wetting themselves over were shot by 2nd unit (i.e., “action”) director, Robert Lorenz, Clint’s longtime producing partner. Another one that got some attention but couldn’t keep mine was THE JUDGE. What were the filmmakers trying to make? A character study? A whodunit? Who cares? Not worthy of Downey & Duvall’s talents. FOXCATCHER was well made (Bennett Miller’s a fine director) and acted but can someone tell me why this was a story anyone was supposed to care about? LOVE IS STRANGE made it onto one NY Times critic’s Best list but it’s my candidate for Worst of the Year. Maudlin, boring, with plot holes you could almost fit a director’s ego thru. Lithgow & Molina were wasted. Lastly, ST. VINCENT was burdened with every cliché in the book: crusty old guy, cute friendless kid, hooker with a heart of gold and throw in Bill Murray playing himself. High fructose corn syrup. There were others I’d suggest not wasting your movie viewing time on - that some critics gushed over - but most of you have probably never heard of them, so why bother?
Feedback on any of the above is both welcome & encouraged.
Anything and Everything that has Nothing to Do with the Movies
Sometimes, we go to a movie to get away from the world and sometimes we go to see what’s going on in the world. This blog will offer comments on the world, the movies and their occasional overlap.