American Sniper

American SniperThis week I had originally intended on writing about The Theory of Everything; however, a recent controversy prompted me to write about American Sniper (2014) instead.  (I’ll get to the other film soon…)

The controversy, much publicized on Fox News, centers around tweets made by both Michael Moore and Seth Logan.  Moore tweeted that his uncle had been killed by a sniper in World War II, which left his family with the opinion that snipers were, among other things, cowards.  Logan, on the other hand, tweeted that the film reminded him of the Nazi propaganda “movie” that was shown in the third act of Inglorious Basterds.

To me, it’s much ado about nothing (they’re just a couple of tweets by people whose opinions I don’t actually care about – although to be fair, I doubt they care any more about my opinions!); however, it does bring up an interesting point: The difference between a hero and a villain is often one of perspective.

For example, consider the following perspectives and see if they make sense from the viewpoint of each person involved:

  • A sniper is a “guardian angel” and a “hero” if he has killed people from a half mile away to save your son/brother/husband from being killed by the enemy.  A sniper is a “coward” and a “villain” if he has killed your son/brother/husband from a half mile away to save the lives of the enemy.
  • Likewise, a “freedom fighter” is someone who, at great personal risk or even sacrifice, will attack a stronger enemy by attacking that enemy’s civilian population in order to achieve victory for you and your people.  A “terrorist”, by contrast, attacks your civilian population in the same manner in order to achieve victory for his people.

There are other viewpoints, I’m sure, as well – but you get the idea…  (For the record, I viewed the sniper portrayed in this film, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, as a guardian angel for the marines he was sent to protect, and I view people who kill our civilians as terrorists.)

But what about the film itself?

I thought it was good, but not great.  To me, director Clint Eastwood kept us too distant from his subject.  We never really get inside Kyle’s head, never really feel what he’s feeling.  I thought the same about how the film portrays Kyle’s wife, Taya.  She came off as the stereotypical nagging wife who doesn’t understand what her husband does for a living and doesn’t appreciate the important work he’s doing.  I very much doubt that such was the case in real-life; however, I thought it would have given us a much better appreciation of what she was going through if we’d been given a deeper look into her life back at home.

While all of this likely sounds pretty negative for a good film, I find it difficult to accept “good” from a film that could have – should have – been “great”.  In this film, we have a fascinating subject – and Bradley Cooper gives yet another spot-on performance.  I just wish the movie would have plumed the depths that I believe this subject truly deserves.

* * *

Since originally posting this review, I’ve seen more controversial topics in the news regarding this film (albeit on a much more “grown-up” level than arguing over someone’s tweets).  One of the first thoughts that comes to mind is that this is a movie – and as such, it is likely to take certain liberties with fact to present its story; therefore, we shouldn’t view it as history, but rather, as entertainment.  Second, if this movie inspires people to discuss the events portrayed therein (hopefully, in a rational, non-cable-news manner), then it has served a useful – if unintended – purpose.

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