American Sniper

Last Saturday afternoon my husband and I went to see “American Sniper”.

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When I first saw the preview for the movie I wasn’t at all interested in seeing it. Then when I found out that it was directed by Clint Eastwood I became much more interested in seeing it. I think Clint Eastwood has proved himself to be a great director who is able to find subtly where others go for the obvious, he is able to find nuances in complicated issues and he is able to look at issues and/or historical events from two sides. My interest in the film began to fade when it became a rallying point for the right wing. And then I felt obligated to see it when it was one of the eight films nominated for Best Picture of 2014. So I think it’s fair to say I went into the film with mixed emotions and expectations.

I found “American Sniper” a complete and utter failure both from a purely  filmmaking perspective and a historical perspective. The sad thing is that given the talent involved (Eastwood and Bradley Cooper) there was the potential for a much better movie here.

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I’ll begin with the filmmaking problems. I know we are expected to suspend our disbelief when we go to the movies and I’m fine with it. However, I found it incredibly unrealistic (and as it turns out untrue) that Chris Kyle (Cooper) would just be chatting on his phone with his wife from the middle of the war zone. This seemed like a completely contrived situation designed to get a response out of the audience. This happens twice in the film. The first time seemed the less realistic of the two. The fact that Kyle’s wife (Siena Miller) is able to call him anytime she wants to tell him that she’s having a boy seems ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is the fact that when she calls him it is daytime in Texas and Iraq at the same time! To put it simply that is impossible. The dialogue was clunky (how the film was nominated for a screenplay Oscar I have no idea) as well.

I admire Bradley Cooper for continuing to try to push himself as an actor.

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He could easily just choose to be a movie star but he doesn’t. He does a really job of creating a character here. However, he just isn’t able to give Kyle enough depth to make yo really care. I don’t know if this is a problem with Cooper’s performance, Eastwood’s directing or the script…probably all three. Sienna Miller begins the movie by creating a strong woman but after the first scene she quickly gives that up to turns into a crying damsel in distress. The script tries to give you a sense of what it’s like for her but it fails. There are no other performances of note in this film. But I am glad to see Jonathan Groff get work outside of “Looking”

Clint Eastwood was able to brilliantly tell both sides of the end of the Pacific front of World War 2 with the 2006 films “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letter from Iwo Jimma”. Despite his vocal support for Republican candidates Eastwood has been able to show an ability to see the bigger pictures in the past but he fails miserably here. He has said he meant the film to be anti-war but it’s not. The film very much glorifies war. There is an attempt at the end to show Kyle struggling with PTSD but it’s not enough to make up the films racism and pro-war stance. Some would argue that these weaknesses are a problem with the script but I’d counter that Eastwood is a powerful enough director that he could get changes made to the script if he wanted to. I admire Clint Eastwood for all of the brilliant films he’s directed over the years but if this is the best he can pull off it may be time for him to hang up his directing hat.

The film is racist and gross. The film presents the false history of the war in Iraq. If people didn’t know better they would think that Iraq was the country that attacked up on September 11, 2001. That is not true and to even hint that is the case is inexcusable. The Iraqis are called savages in the film. I’d counter that the real savages are the people who go into a sovereign nation and overthrow their government based on a pack of fabricated intelligence reports. The real savages are the invaders who just go into a country because a man who stole an election wants to avenge an attempt on his father’s life. The real savages are the people who distablize a region and create ISIS.

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“American Sniper” is a failure as film and a failure as a history lesson. I feel dirty for having spent $15 on it plain and simple.

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