ONE BULLET CAN TELL THE STORY.
Rarely has a film provoked such a heated and confusing debate as this film. There was the controversy where a baby in a key scene looks decidedly fake, which is distracting. There was outrage on the left, where people like Michael Moore labeled snipers as “cowards” and Seth Rogen compared the film to a Nazi propaganda movie. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean said only angry people go to see this movie, which was criticized by Gary Sinise. Now we hear that Texas is honoring America’s most lethal sniper with a “Chris Kyle day”. It is indeed getting pretty crazy out there.
At an early age, Chris Kyle is taught to hunt and stand up for himself if he’s bullied. In 1998, he’s working as a rodeo cowboy when the U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya compel him to join the navy. He’s trained to become a Navy SEAL sniper and is sent to Iraq shortly after the start of the war in 2003. He becomes involved in the search for “The Butcher”, al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s ruthless second-in-command, and is soon also known as the legendary sniper who’s killed more militants than anyone else. He finds a match, however, in an insurgent sniper called Mustafa whom he keeps hunting throughout his four tours to Iraq. In between, Kyle tries to adapt to life in Texas, as a husband to Taya (Sienna Miller) and father, but he’s unable to accept that the war is changing him for the worse…
Rushing into the war
So, let’s go through what it is we have here. First of all, this is one person’s experience of the Iraq War. Some critics wanted more background and interpreted Chris Kyle’s views as the film’s own, but that’s false. We already know the background very well and don’t need it repeated for this individual story. Even though Clint Eastwood does rush us into the war the film does not say that Iraq was invaded because of 9/11 – but it slyly suggests that Kyle was as blind to facts as many other Americans at the start of the Iraq War. His simplistic views dominate the film because this is his story and they are challenged, by friends, family and other soldiers, as we go along. Eastwood and writer Jason Hall focus on two things – Kyle’s experiences as a veteran and the explosive hunt for his nemesis, Mustafa. The film gives us the undeniable thrill of combat that exists among some soldiers, while also skilfully showing us the devastating effect on Kyle who retreats deeper into his shell. A very buff Brandon Cooper gives a totally credible performance as the simple-minded Texan who desperately hangs on to tired clichés about fighting the enemy where they are, refusing to acknowledge his mental problems. Sienna Miller is also very good as his wife who tries to make her husband see that he needs help. This is what the film is really about – which makes the last five minutes of brainlessly patriotic idolizing of the real-life Kyle hard to take.
One has to admire the fact that Eastwood is able to craft such a vivid film at the age of 84. A major hit in cinemas, American Sniper has inspired racist reactions and moronic interpretations. But people will always behave like idiots. Neither the film nor Eastwood can be held responsible.
American Sniper 2014-U.S. 132 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Andrew Lazar, Robert Lorenz, Peter Morgan. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Screenplay: Jason Hall. Book: Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice. Editing: Joel Cox, Gary Roach. Cast: Bradley Cooper (Chris Kyle), Sienna Miller (Taya Renae Kyle), Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Sam Jaeger.
Trivia: David O. Russell and Steven Spielberg were allegedly considered for directing duties.
Oscar: Best Sound Editing.
Last word: “I went to [Kyle’s] funeral, and while some of his friends were fine with me being there, others were really upset by it. They thought I was just there to get dirt. At the end of the night, all the guys were out drinking beers, and one of them tried to get me to leave. I told him I wasn’t going anywhere. Another came up to me and said, ‘If you fuck this up, I’ll kill you.’ It was a pretty serious threat. While I was down there I reconnected with his wife, Taya, and told her, ‘Call me when you’re ready.’ A few days later, she said, ‘If you’re still going to do this, you need to do it right because this is going to play a part in how my kids remember their father.’ We started talking daily after that. I learned that if you want to know about a man, you ask his wife, not him.” (Hall, Rolling Stone)