Friday, January 16, 2015

"American Sniper": once the biography of Chris Kyle gets going, it sweeps you away


I did get to the one-day sneak of “American Sniper”, directed in the quiet, pacing style typical for Clint Eastwood, late Thursday night in a sold-out auditorium at AMC Courthouse (with the reclining seats) in Arlington.  The presentation was not IMAX, but seemed to be extended digital, in full anamorphic (“Cinemascope”) in all scenes. (It’s worthy to note that generally features shown in IMAX are not entirely shot in the process, only selected scenes, and not in full anamorphic.  It’s not clear that it pays to use it.)
  
The movie, adapted by Jason Hall, is adapted from Chris Kyle’s own book (written with Scott McEwen and James Defelice).  There is a good biography on Wikipedia here which could be read before seeing the movie, link
  
The film starts with the notorious shot (in Iraq) of a female carrying a bomb, before the movie then goes through a half hour of backstory, starting with his strict upbringing in Texas.  This part of the film is rushed and a little superficial, which is understandable given the need to stay within about two hours length.  (I run into the same problem with backstories in my own novel, especially early chapters that give summaries of each major character.)  The rodeo injury is hardly mentioned, and the Navy Seal training is covered very quickly.  How did he overcome the injury to become so good as a sharpshooter?  I thought, you could make an interesting indie film about what Army Basic in 1968 was like for someone like me (and the “knowhow” is in my DADT-3 book).  By the way, I did make "sharpshooter" in Basic (47/80), but a lot of guys made "Expert" (60/80).  

But once the film gets into his four tours, admixed with his marriage and home life (and his wife’s having a baby, document in detail you expect from Morgan Spurlock) it gets into high gear.  The battle scenes are even more intense than “The Hurt Locker” (July 12, 2009) and there is some influence of Kathryn Bigelow in Eastwood’s own technique. 

As for the acting, Sienna Miller is laconic and gritty as Taya, and appropriately challenging to Chris. For example, once she has the kid, she demands that Chris allow others to do the sacrificing. As in real life, he says he regrets he didn't save even more soldiers' lives, and he has no regrets about any of the kills.  (There is one scene were a kid puts down a bomb just in time.)  Chris also says that one of his buddies died over a disloyal letter rather than battle itself.  (I thought – should the childless sacrifice in battle more for those with kids?  I guess it happens.  Remember, Clint Eastwood is well known for his libertarian political views.)  But let’s get to Bradley Cooper as Chris.  Bradley Cooper is often viewed today as the perfect young white Anglo-ancestry American male.  (I think his namesake Anderson Cooper appears in one CNN clip – when will Anderson have a real part in a script?)  But for this movie, Cooper apparently gained a bit of weight (going the opposite direction from Jake Gyllenhaal).  He looks flush and bloatware-loaded, and the scene where a civilian nurse notes his high blood pressure seems fitting.  I thought about Morgan Spurlock and “Super Size Me”. 

After Kyle “comes home” he goes through some PTSD and adjustment, and there is a particularly graphic scene where he helps out grievously wounded and disfigured veterans (teaching one to use a rifle again).   The film has already launched a few surprises with prosthetic limbs in domestic scenes (including an encounter between Kyle and a soldier whom he had saved).  But suddenly we see men with arms and legs still attached, but horribly scarred and remodeled in various ways, where one would have expected amputations and prosthetics.  These scenes were probably shot with real veterans.  A critical issue is the ability of such a person to stay in a (marital) relationship or find a new one.  Earlier films (“Body of War” (April 7, 2008) and “Fighting for Life” (March 20, 2008) deal with this.  One of the concerns earlier in my own life was that my “presence” disrupted the ability of others to deal with this possibility after taking risks that I would avoid.

As the closing credits start, the film roll explains briefly Kyle's death stateside at the hand of a veteran, and shows the funeral procession to the stadium in Arlington, TX.  Again, this important detail seems glossed over. 

  
The official site is here. This is another Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow collaboration.  I wish WB would always use its Casablanca music when introducing its films, but Eastwood often wants no music.

I barely missed seeing this film in 2014 when I was in NYC Dec, 29.  I didn't get to Regal Union Square quite on time and then had a train to catch.  This film should not have been held up for regular viewing (and neither should have "Selma", which DC got to see on Christmas day).  
     
The scenes in Iraq are filmed in Morocco. 

Michael Moore has created some controversy about the film by saying that "sniping" is a "cowardly" way to do battle, an odd notion. And Seth Rogen ("The Interview", Dec. 27) made an odd comparison to "Inglourious Basterds", reviewed Aug 28, 2009 (story).

Zack Beauchamp of Vox Media has criticized the film's account of why we got involved in Iraq, here.

Filmdrunk has this disturbing report about the reaction of some people, reminding one of "The Interview", here
 
NBC News reports the mixed reaction of today's Bagdad residents, who depend on an unreliable Iraqi government and military to keep ISIS at bay, here.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA aerial of Baghdad   Second picture: rural TX, my visit, 2011.


Update: April 23

There is controversy over showing this movie at the University of Maryland because of Muslim complaints, supposedly, Fox news story here.

Update: Aug. 15

Jesse Ventura (former governor of Minnesota) has won a defamation suit against the Kyle estate over a matter in Kyle's book, explained on my main blog today. 

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