Monday, January 26, 2015

Ambivalent About American Sniper #AmericanSniper

I like World War II movies. It is not only a fascinating time in world history, but I also like having an obvious bad guy. The Nazis are clearly the bad guys in any WW II film. Rooting for The Allies and against The Axis is obvious. War films based in different eras are more problematic and usually contain multitude of questions about US involvement in the conflict. The best example of this is the American involvement in the Vietnam War. The makers of some of my favorite Vietnam War films The Deer Hunter, Platoon, and Apocalypse Now obviously understood this. The "bad" guy is not obvious, it actually could be us. The struggle that goes on in the war also happens within the characters of the films. Are they the "good" guy? Or are they just trying to survive and protect their friends in the madness of war?

I saw American Sniper last night and there is no such nuance in this film which is not the only problem I have with the film, but perhaps the biggest problem I had with it. Even though we are the invading force in Iraq, a sovereign nation that had no connection with the 9/11 attacks and had no weapons of mass-destruction, yet this film presents us with a clear "good" guy vs. "bad" guy mentality. This may work with a movie about comic book heroes or even WW II, but not about a largely contentious war like the most recent war in Iraq. Who exactly is the "bad" guy ... the woman who is throwing a grenade at an invading force or the sniper that guns her down?   Chris Kyle, the American Sniper of the film and book, called this woman in the book, his first kill, a "savage." Sorry, but I don't think it is that easy. Reality is much more complex than that and I questioned the sanity and morality of any society that will place Kyle in the lofty caste of hero.

This is not a very good film. However much respect I have for Clint Eastwood as a film maker, I wonder what he saw in this story. The story is simple. Kyle signs up to be a Navy Seal, goes to basic training, does four tours of duty in Iraq as a sniper. He kills a bunch of people, has a little bit of difficulty dealing with readjusting to life in America but does okay a short time later. End of story. Not a lot of growth here and nothing very interesting. Most of the film is Kyle going from situation to situation killing people. Occasionally he has a conversation with one of his cohorts or wife, but nothing too introspective. If you like seeing people killed on film, this is the movie for you. If you like character development and reflection on the world, you might want to skip this one.  This is melodrama with all the savages being Iraqi with the Americans doing no wrong. You want to see bullshit melodrama, I suggest Birth of a Nation. At least that film has an excuse for its b.s., it is old and its audience didn't know any better. We should. File this film under right wing propaganda.

I find myself alienated with general society sometimes. This is clearly one of those times. This is the number one film at the box office and was nominated for best picture of the year by the Academy and yet, I was bored. Half way through the film, I could tell it was going nowhere. I considered leaving to go home to watch The Walking Dead again. Even the walking dead have more depth than the characters in this film. Spoiler: when Kyle finally kills the enemy sniper, there were a handful of cheers in the theater (of about 100 people). I felt odd because I wasn't cheering for Kyle. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't cheering for the Iraqi sniper either. I felt apathetic, ambivalence. I just didn't care. I was glad because it meant the film would be done soon. I just got a little bit more pissed off that my tax dollars were spent invading a country rather than repairing bridges, educating the young or helping hurricane victims. I'd consider rooting for the Iraqi sniper because at least he was defending his home but I just didn't care. There are no heroes in this film, just a lot of one dimension characters who think they are heroes and I find this film's popularity to be very scary.

1 comment:

Olga Hebert said...

This is not a movie I would go to see. I did hear an NPR interview with a sniper who talked about having a job to do, doing it, and sleeping very well at night,thank-you very much. That was pretty scary.