AMERICAN SNIPER: REVIEW

AMERICAN SNIPER: REVIEW – Bradley Cooper’s Hangover 4 takes a dour turn as it heads off to war in Iraq.

Clint Eastwood’s Iraq war drama based on the real life story of America’s ‘deadliest sniper’ Chris Kyle and based on his memoir is a confusing and weird film. As an initial character study it resembles last year’s Dallas Buyers Club in taking an unlikely Southern character and turning him into something like a hero. We first see Kyle as a sniper deployed in Iraq. On a roof top covering the advance of a platoon of marines, he is presented with an impossible choice. A woman and her ten year old son approach the platoon with apparent intent. Does Kyle shoot them to protect the platoon, or does he renege on his duty and put the platoon at risk? Flashback to the rest of his life up until this point.

Kyle grows up with a gun in his hand and bottle fed a stern Christian based (almost Manichean) morality. There are wolves, sheep and sheep dogs, his father tells him, with his belt on the table. Kyle is thus pre-molded for when he finds his vocation in the Navy SEALs elite squad. But Cooper’s performance elevates Kyle from some brainwashed grunt. He is a chivalrous old fashioned type who falls completely for Taya (Sienna Miller), a feisty young woman who already feels she’s been around the block once too often. They marry with the second Gulf War imminent and Kyle’s deployment almost certain. And so back to shooting children.

Eastwood has created a weird film. The war scenes are compelling and work as a companion piece to Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. As with Jeremy Renner’s character, Kyle is an expert who genuinely enjoys war as it gives him the opportunity to enact that expertise to its fullest potential. His simplistic us and them view of the world – the Iraqis are ‘savages’ who need to be exterminated –  is as narrow as you’d expect from someone who spends his life looking down a telescopic sight. Kyle is the man with the hammer who sees only nails. Whereas a friendship of sorts grew up between an Iraqi boy and the bomb disposal expert in Bigelow’s film, Kyle has little contact with the Iraqi populace short of popping them. One moment of apparent peace and civility – a meal shared in the house of  a suspect – is revealed to be a duplicitous trick.

This is not to say that the film wholeheartedly endorses Kyle’s viewpoint. His unwavering commitment to the war increasingly looks more like a symptom of PTSD or simple psychopathy than a political ethos. Or worse still, it is a self-serving justification to allow Kyle to keep killing people. His only moral quandary, his only stated doubt, is that he didn’t kill enough people and thereby save more of his own tribe. His upset at shooting a child he explains to a friend is because it was his first kill, like a man disappointed to have lost his virginity in an ugly drunken tryst.

Kyle’s entire life is defined by guns: from hunting with his dad, to Fallujah and on to hunting with his son. He even wins his wife’s affections by showing off his prowess at a funfair shooting gallery.  There’s a weird moment with his wife late on when he points a gun at her and tells her to drop her knickers – as a joke, with their kids in the next room – which might be a litmus test for how you view the protagonist and the whole film. If you see this as the good old boy charm of a happy domestic scene, you’ll read the film as a NRA approved portrait of a patriot who sacrificed his own mental well-being to protect and serve. Otherwise, you might see that the war will never end for this man, no matter where he is. And that the American in the title is a disturbing pairing with echoes of American Psycho, as if that’s what America is now, a country that kills at long range.

A final note on historical accuracy/honesty. American Sniper is open to criticism similar to that leveled at the Dallas Buyers Club. Just as McConaughey’s sexuality was straightened out by the Oscar winning film, so Kyle’s racism and his loud self-promotion is dampened down in Eastwood’s. Cooper’s Kyle is embarrassed by his legend, modest and self-effacing and as such eminently likable. In reality, Kyle wrote the book the film is based on, starred in a reality TV show, claimed to have shot looters post-Katrina and gave interviews to Bill O’Reilly et al claiming to have punched out Jesse Ventura (a case for defamation was found in the plaintive’s favor). Along with these omissions is the invention of an Iraqi sniper as a nemesis and mirror image of Kyle who is basically the Ivan Drago to Cooper’s Rocky IV.

This is a well made and intense war film. But I always felt like I was in the cinema featured in Inglourious Basterds watching the film about the Nazi sniper. Except the Nazi didn’t shoot children.

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BREAKFAST WITH ASSHOLES: 13: KATHRYN BIGELOW

Bacon and eggs, toast, waffles, grits, grapefruit juice, sleep deprivation and water-boarding.

Kathryn Bigelow invites me in. Her kitchen is full of sunlight and there is a radio on. She looks a little frazzled what with the controversy surrounding her latest film Zero Dark Thirty. ‘Do you think making these films about the military – Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty – have changed you in anyway?’ I ask.
‘Sir, no sir!’ she barks.

To my surprise we continue through the kitchen and into the basement, where Kathryn shows me the way to what looks like a cell. Concrete walls and a small cot. Before I know what’s happened, Kathryn has me changed into an orange boiler suit and a bag is taped over my face.
‘Did you like the film?’ she asks. ‘What did you think of Chastain?’
‘She was great,’ I cried. ‘And Mark Strong’s accent was flawless.’
Before I knew it I was being leant backward over what felt like an ironing board. And something qwas poured over my face. I gasped for breath.
‘What about Point Break?’ she said. ‘What did you think of Swayze?’
‘He’s …’ I gasped. How could I say what I really thought? ‘He’s …’
‘WHAT?’
‘A limited actor with a vague iconic presence.’
The bag is off and I’m gasping for air. She offers me a cigarette. ‘You okay?’
I nod shivering and spluttering.
‘What do you think? Does Zero Dark Thirty advocate torture?’ she asks, as she fetches coffee.
‘Well, there’s definitely an ambiguity there,’ I say. ‘What are those wires?’
When I finish bucking and jerking and the last shivers of agonizing electricity finds its way out of my body, I scream through clenched teeth, ‘You were just objectively trying to tell a story in a very difficult period in history.’
She plays it back. And then has me sign the release. And we go upstairs for waffles.

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KATHRYN BIGELOW PLANS WAR ON TERROR TRILOGY

GUANTANAMO – Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow has stated that she plans to close her War on Terror trilogy that began with the Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty with a new film called Dirty Dark Locker.

The new film will star Garry Shandling as a CIA intelligence officer who finds Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq but who is told to bury them in the desert by Washington politicians who believe that finding the weapons is ‘not PC’ and might in fact be racist.

Cheap


Col. Bigelow – as she prefers to be called – has already come under fire for her claim that torture led to the capture and execution of Bin Laden (it did not), but is unrepentant and looks ready to stir up even more controversy with her new film.

People say that your films have an overly romantic view of the American military. Is that true?

Sir, no, sir. Hurt Locker was critical of the established military even as it praised the heroes, the men on the ground. 

But with Zero Dark Thirty you propose the idea that torture led to the finding of Osama Bin Laden when this idea is disputed from even within the intelligence and defence communities. Why?

Permission to speak candidly sir.

Granted. 

I really like 24 and that was what I was thinking. I was thinking, 24  would be a good thing if if it were to be true. And that way Jessica Chastain can make up for that Tree of Life bullshit.  

And your new film claims that the WMD were actually found and so justifies retrospectively George Bush’s war even if all the evidence is against it. 

 I watched Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone and when it ended I thought bullshit man. They didn’t find a goddam thing. I know that that is the reality but I like films which are like not the reality. And so that’s what I did. 

And why did you cast Garry Shandling?

He was cheap, sir.