Sunday, January 18, 2015

American Sniper (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie American Sniper

1. This movie knocked me speechless.

2. Directed by 84-year-old Clint Eastwood, it's based (kind of) on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, who has the reputation of being the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. In the book, Kyle portrays himself as a stone-cold badass killer. The movie softens that up a great deal. In fact, after the first 30 minutes, the movie has very little to do with the real Chris Kyle. He's a convenient symbol from which Eastwood constructs a rather complicated metaphor, to show that war is both necessary and self-defeating.

3. The movie starts by setting up Kyle's simple, patriotic, God-country-family loyalty. It's a world of black and white, good and evil. Kyle becomes a Navy SEAL to fight evil. But as the movie progresses, Kyle starts to be confronted with situations and ideas that don't mesh with his view of reality. This makes him angry and confused, and he deals with it by suppressing it and focusing on his job of defending America against evil; he returns to Iraq again and again.

4. Kyle does four tours in Iraq, separated by periods back at home with his family. The random violence and constant paranoia in Kyle's military life suddenly switches to the carefree American oblivious family life. This is somewhat disorienting, which helps you to understand what Kyle is experiencing. The movie is an excellent depiction of the development of PTSD without ever mentioning that term.

5. Bradley Cooper is astounding in his portrayal of Kyle. You can tell a great actor by what he does when he's not talking. Cooper nails the body language of a man who feels at home while he's at war, and at war while he's at home. It's not only in his body, it's even in his eyes.

6. A LOT of people miss the entire point of the movie because they immediately move into their respective corners and watch it only through their lens. The hyper patriots that expect the movie to call him a saint are just as lost as the ones that expect the movie to call him a racist sociopath.

7. The movie is pretty violent. And since it is almost entirely urban combat, the violence is more intimate, more intense, than in conventional war movies. There are no epic battle scenes. Every shot, every killed soldier, is shown individually.

8. There is an unwritten rule of filmmaking that if you are going to torture or kill a child, you don't actually show it; the act is committed offscreen. This movie breaks that rule. Twice.

9. The movie embraces the paradoxes of war by showing them through the eyes of a man that doesn't understand paradox. What makes the movie so polarizing (and so impressive to me) is the fact that Clint Eastwood turned the movie itself into a bullet, shooting straight for a deep nerve in American culture. Love it or loathe it, this is something we need to pay attention to