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.
Anything and Everything that has Nothing to Do with the Movies
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