By Mike Caccioppoli
Let’s face it fellow liberals, Clint Eastwood pissed us off with his improvisation at the Republican Convention in 2012. I was just talking to a friend about that night. We were both enraged, we hated Clint, wanted nothing to do with him anymore. Thinking back to that event we both wondered why we were so upset. It’s like thinking back to a fight and wondering what it was you were fighting about. Probably something stupid. The fact is that we hated Mitt Romney so much that we were offended that Eastwood would do anything at an event that officially nominated him for President.
I thought this was a bad move by Clint because it would most likely prejudice people towards his future films especially the critics who so often loved his work. And I was right. I waited a while before seeing “American Sniper” but I did read a few articles about the film. I was prepared to hate it. I heard people call it “propaganda”, “hero worship”, “a film reminiscent of the Nazi propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl.” I was so off put by all of these negative remarks that for a while I didn’t even want to see the film. I’m guessing that a good portion of the people who criticized the film didn’t even see it. Maybe they saw clips and other reviews, but that’s about it.
The controversy surrounds the main character Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper. If the main character were a fictional soldier there would most likely be no controversy at all. Kyle has become controversial because he probably lied about certain things. Two of the biggest being that he punched out Jessie Ventura and that he was a sniper in New Orleans after Katrina. Neither of these events have anything to do with his work as a Navy Seals sniper during the Iraq war. This is what the film is about.
We see Kyle watching the events of 9/11 unfold on television and it makes him angry (as it did all Americans). He signs up to be a Navy Seal. Eastwood shows the rigorous training routines he endures, and it reminded me a bit of his “Heartbreak Ridge.” He makes it through and becomes an elite sniper. His first kill is a young Iraqi boy who is carrying a missile and then his mother who picks it up after the boy is killed by Kyle. The real Chris Kyle said he actually never shot any children. But Eastwood chooses a child as his first “victim.” Hero worship? I think not.
Eastwood has never been a director interested in black and white. How soon we forget that he is the guy who shot two separate films about World War II. One from the American side and one from the Japanese point of view. No director has ever done that before. Eastwood is interested in cinema, not history. If you are interested in history read a history book. We know the Iraq war was a disaster and so does Eastwood. But his film is about one soldier, and it is shown mostly from his point of view.
Eastwood is a masterful filmmaker. What he is not that good at is talking about his films. You can blame him for that but if you call his film jingoistic you are wrong. Every war film is inherently anti-war simply because it shows the horrible things that happen during war. There are films that get a high from their “action” scenes, an exhilaration. Eastwood shoots the wartime action in a very sober fashion. When Kyle kills someone, there is no celebration, just a hollow feeling. Yes he was doing his job, and something in his psyche made him continue to go back to Iraq, for four tours. But Eastwood doesn’t allow any release after Kyle kills someone. He uses close ups on Kyle’s face and eyes and Cooper brilliantly conveys a stare that allows us to project our own feelings on what might have been going on in Kyle’s mind.
Now there is no doubt Kyle needed the action of war. It came at the detriment of his wife (the brilliant Sienna Miller) and kids. When he returns home in between tours, he is detached, just waiting for his next deployment. He says he needs to save the lives of his fellow soldiers and we can see how having that mindset is not only a way to deal with what he does but that it would also be very addictive if you looked at it that way. Eastwood makes the decision to spend most of the film in Iraq, detailing Kyle’s tours and his search for an enemy sniper who is killing American soldiers. The scenes of his time back home in between tours are short and solemn. The war was always in Kyle’s mind, he couldn’t shake it and Eastwood smartly conveys that through the editing of these very short respites before heading back to war.
When Eastwood was asked about if his film was “anti-war” he said that he couldn’t see anything more anti-war than showing how it devastates families. I will go one further and whether or not this was a conscience decision of Eastwood’s I can’t say but the true greatness of “American Sniper” is how it shows what a true son of a bitch George W. Bush was for getting us into that debacle to begin with. There were many young men and women like Kyle who were motivated by the events of 9/11 and bought into Bush’s Iraq connection that of course never existed. That scene where Kyle watches the planes going into the twin towers was probably the exact scene that took place in household after household, and when Bush convinced people that Iraq caused it, that was the true propaganda. Kyle wasn’t the only one who bought it at the time was he??
You can watch “American Sniper” and come out thinking many things about Kyle. Some might call him a hero, some might say he was addicted to the kill, others might think he was just doing the job he signed up for, like so many other soldiers in all of the wars that have ever existed. Eastwood’s directorial choices allow the viewer to think for themselves. Propaganda pushes a certain point of view. If you see “American Sniper” and really believe that Eastwood is doing that you didn’t watch closely enough.
Once again there is no doubt that if the focus of the film were some unnamed soldier, there would be no controversy at all and “American Sniper” would just go into the pantheon of great war films. The word “jingoistic” would never be used. It’s amazing how the true jingoism of bad war films, of films like “Rambo” don’t seem to bother people. And they keep making them. Yes there are some people who are seeing “American Sniper” because they hate Arabs, but there are people who see Martin Scorsese films because they love the mafia. So what? A film can’t be responsible for the people that choose to see it. Most people just want to see a good film, and good action films, or war films do well at the box office, always.
Bradley Cooper is superb as Kyle. His subtlety as an actor is a perfect match for Eastwood’s sober style. The most heartbreaking scenes are when Kyle returns home, in denial of his PTSD and his addiction to war. Cooper shows how denial works, how Kyle wasn’t able to absorb or recognize his true feelings. Yes Kyle may have done some weird shit when he was done with Iraq, maybe told some lies, but couldn’t his psychological state have something to do with it?
As liberals we should feel for these soldiers, for what they had to endure because of an evil administration.
“American Sniper” is not only a great war film, it’s one of the best films of the year. See it for yourself, don’t just read about it!