Tuesday, January 5, 2016

American Sniper

Year 8, Day 5 - 1/5/16 - Movie #2,205

BEFORE: Well, I had a good run, starting the year with four films in a row about entertainers - comedians, voice-over artists, James Brown and punk bands.  But now I have to put a pin in that topic and come back to it later.  Now comes some more challenging material.

Hey, the Talking Heads had that song, "Life During Wartime", which mentioned vans full of weapons and such, and now here we are - no, that seems like a stretch.  The truth is that most of the actors from "CBGB" didn't link to anything, so Kyle Gallner, who played Lou Reed last night, carries over and plays a soldier today.  I realize I've been relying on some fairly obscure actors for linking, but that's going to change.  Umm, starting tomorrow.

THE PLOT:  Navy S.E.A.L. sniper Chris Kyle's pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can't leave behind. 

AFTER: OK, how about this for a thematic connection - Hilly Kristal was great at running unsuccessful bars, but was ill-prepared to run CBGB when it took off.  In a similar fashion, Chris Kyle seemed to excel in the street battles of Iraq, but couldn't seem to handle his time spent with his wife back in the U.S. between tours.  Eh, it still seems like a stretch.

I should mention that I'm aware of the controversy surrounding the accuracy of this film as it relates to Chris Kyle's memoir, and also the accuracy of the memoir as it relates to the war in Iraq.  For the purposes of my review, I'm only going to focus on what's presented in the film, because I haven't read the book, and I don't have firsthand knowledge of what went down in Fallujah.  (So, the scene where Chris Kyle charges across a minefield on a white stallion, shooting two sniper rifles at once, single-handedly protecting the military convoy MIGHT be a bit of an exaggeration...)

I'm more bothered by - AGAIN - the need to make a non-linear montage mess out of a man's life, the feeling that a film just HAS to start with the most gripping moment (Kyle protecting a convoy with a sniper rifle, forced to make a decision about whether to shoot children with weapons) then snapping back to show us Kyle going through training, then back further to show us 10-year old Kyle in a schoolyard fight, etc. etc.  He's a rodeo star, he's a kid, he's a sniper, all in seemingly random order.  If your narrative is strong enough, you should have no problem starting at the beginning and working forward in regular fashion - why does everyone suddenly need to be so "arty" and non-linear?

Eventually the time-jumping ceases, and the film settles into a (presumably) linear narrative, as marked by subtitles detailing which of Kyle's four tours we're on now.  This is helpful, sure, but it doesn't make up for the start of the film, where he's simultaneously 35, 12 and 23, or thereabouts.  Kurt Vonnegut got away with it in "Slaughterhouse Five", but other storytellers should think twice about trying this.  

In one of the early scenes (both in Kyle's life and in the film, though with all the time-jumping, you can't take that sort of thing for granted...) his father imparts this bit of wisdom after a schoolyard fight - (and I'm paraphrasing here...) "Son, there are only three types of people in the world - sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.  Now, sheep do whatever anyone tells them, and wolves are bullies.  I sure don't want my sons to be sheep, but I don't want them to be wolves, either." He goes on to suggest that only a lucky few get to be the sheepdogs, who protect the sheep from the wolves, as if this is some brilliant insight.  How about - there are only two types of people in the world, those who use ridiculous anthropomorphic metaphors and see the word in absolutes, and then there are reasonable, rational people who don't do that. 

(Meanwhile, 10-year-old Chris was probably thinking, "Darn, why can't I be a walrus?  They're so cool.  No, wait, a unicorn!  Dad, I want to be a unicorn!")

If I'm undecided on this film, it's because I can't tell for sure if it's pro-war or anti-war.  Or if someone tried to hedge their bets by not taking a clear stand, so that the audience would see whichever message they want.  Clearly Chris Kyle (the character) was very gung-ho about serving in Iraq, he believed that by fighting the war THERE, he was preventing it from coming HERE.  But what if that's not true?  What if shooting civilians (admittedly, ones trying to hurt U.S. soldiers, but, still, civilians) there only created more enemies in the long run?  What if every Iraqi shot by a Navy Seal sniper or other soldier had a son, brother or friend who then became more determined to harm Americans in the future?  

And can we talk about gun culture in America?  The film felt JUST shy of drawing a connection between taking a kid hunting for deer, and then flashing forward to him sitting in a sniper's nest in Iraq, debating whether to take the kill-shot on an Iraqi kid.  And if that soldier is scarred by his experiences, gets PTSD over what he's seen and who he's killed, how do you NOT trace that back to his time shooting deer and ducks out in the wild?  Then fast-forward a little further, after the war, when a man trained to kill has trouble readjusting to society - is it any wonder we have so many mass shootings in this country?  Some of the homegrown shooters must have military backgrounds, right?  Like that D.C. sniper from a few years ago?  Or the shootings at Fort Hood, Camp Shelby, Chattanooga, etc. 

If this film is accurate, then Chris Kyle eventually found some solace by working with other veterans, but it seems like mostly he took them out to the gun range.  Right, just the thing to help them forget about their war experiences, great idea. And no, that didn't end well for Kyle. 

Ultimately, what's the difference between a U.S. soldier using a sniper rifle to take out civilian threats in Iraq, and a former soldier using a sniper rifle to take out civilians in the U.S.?  One's work is sanctioned by the government, that's all - he's protecting our troops, and the other guy's psychotic?  I think there might be less difference between the two men than we've been led to believe. 

Also starring Bradley Cooper (last seen in "Failure to Launch"), Sienna Miller (last seen in "The Girl"), Keir O'Donnell, Luke Grimes (last seen in "Taken 2"), Sam Jaeger, Eric Close, Jake McDorman (last seen in "Live Free or Die Hard"), Cory Hardrict, Eric Ladin, Brian Hallisay, Navid Negahban, Mido Hamada, Chance Kelly (last seen in "Little Children"), Ben Reed, Elise Robertson, Troy Vincent, with a cameo from Jonathan Groff (last seen in "The Conspirator").

RATING: 5 out of 10 Humvees 

No comments:

Post a Comment