Oscar season is upon us, and very good pirated copies of DVDs leaked by Academy members will be flooding the illegal market. It is also the one time of year that you are guaranteed to have decent films at the cinema. Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is the most controversial of this year’s race, and with Seth Rogen, Michael Moore, and Sarah Palin weighing in, it is certainly generating a lot of talk, as well as hot air.
American Sniper is biographical film about the sniper Chris Kyle, who notched up 255 confirmed kills during his time of service in Iraq. Bradley Cooper embodies Kyle, looking suitably hulky as a top Navy SEAL. The film begins with his childhood and time as a cowboy until the age of thirty then moves into his training and the entire time spent in service. Parallel to his time as a soldier is the courtship of his wife Taya, played by an unrecognizable Sienna Milller.
Clint is doing what Clint does best; he articulates the realities of manhood using very few flashy techniques. You will get the bang and boom of war in the war scenes, but there is not much showy action sequences and seems to be much more realistic than showy. The images are stark and the use of a musical theme is very spare. Eastwood’s understatement is best exhibited in his treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD. The alcoholic histrionics of Born on the Fourth of July or Forrest Gump are not here. Instead, Kyle’s coldness is shown by domestic scenes where very little happens, snapping at the family dog or a cold stare. A lot of the subtlety is in Bradley Cooper’s performance. He is perfect as the military Texan, a poignant portrait of the macho suppression of fear and rage. Such quietness is not normally what the Academy awards. Had the film been more melodramatic, Cooper may have had a chance at winning but, regardless, he impresses.
Ethics: You Decide
I am not going to judge whether the ethics of the film are right or wrong; let’s leave that to priests, high court judges, and the film classification board; I will, however, comment on the presentation of such ethical issues. The main question the movie asks is, “Is Chris Kyle a hero?” It seriously grapples with the issues and comes out with its answer that has Sarah Palin shouting for joy and Michael Moore groaning. But for liberals to call this propaganda is mean-spirited; Eastwood does look at both sides of the argument and falls on one side. The to-and-froing of the many marital conversations between Chris and his wife shows this struggle beautifully, as does the conversation between Kyle and his soldier buddies.
Sympathy Wins the Day
This film, I believe, is not primarily for the patriotic or war-obsessed. Many, many other action films glorify war in a much shinier ways for those people. Personally, I feel the people who will get the most out of it are the pacifists (like myself) who have a hard time understanding the mindset of someone who would kill for their country. Personally speaking, as someone who has worked in refugee centres with many Iraqis, my sympathies naturally lie with the brown-skinned underdogs. Hollywood does not portray their side of the story very often, nor do I think should it. Let us have Iraqi filmmakers make movies about Iraqis who can really portray the realities of their lives. Hollywood would just give the subject a patronizing treatment. American Sniper looks sympathetically at a type of person, the redneck, biblebelt patriot, who is normally very unfairly treated by more liberal filmmakers. I enjoyed seeing this character treated fairly, even if I do not identify with him very much at all. Cinema at its best can give us a different, point of view of the world an angle from which we have never looked at before. It’s there to test our hearts to see how far our compassion for people with stories different from our own can stretch, and American Sniper explores the reality of an American serviceman deeply and gracefully.
American Sniper is being shown in Ayala Centre Cebu Cinemas and SM City Cebu Cinemas this weeked January 23-25, 2015.