American Sniper (2015)
And so the increasingly precarious grip of Clint Eastwood upon his directorial and storytelling capacity is finally and irrevocably MIA. American Sniper arrives in cinemas on the crest of a controversial wave, with rather disgusting and disturbing racist chatter supporting the film emitting from the right-wing brigade, alongside accusations of hideous fascist propaganda calibrated from the liberal left. The film charts the real life story of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in US military history who served in a succession of tours in Iraq during the early years of the invasion and occupation, chalking up a ratio of over 160 confirmed kills although he rather disturbingly claimed with peacock rustling effect that his kill count was closer to another hundred on top of the official roll-call. He’s a problematic figure to deconstruct given some of the outlandish claims and stories he spun since retiring from active service in 2009, with defamation lawsuits recently being won by the likes of Jesse Ventura alongside Kyle’s claims that he and a colleague killed 30 ‘lawless citizens’ during the Katrina disaster at New Orleans – what a superb fellow. The film is lifted from his best-selling book self-celebrating his homicidal triumphs, a biography which is rather horrifyingly sequestered in the ‘self-help’ section of bookstores across America, a perfect portrait of the Bush years which many of us hoped had been consigned to the dustbin of history.
I have seen some offensive films in my time, most recently over Christmas I finally tracked down the notorious video nasty and BFI banned Necromatik which is a film about a very sick woman who in purifying detail fucks a series of decaying corpses, a film which was the very model of decorum and restraint in comparison to American Sniper’s hideous ideology and adolescent posturing. Obviously I wasn’t predetermined to enjoy this, like any reasonable and intellectually astute human being I strongly believe that Blair, Bush and the rest of the cronies should be in the Hague for crimes against humanity. That’s not to say however that I would transfer that disgust and hatred from the war criminals to the servicemen and women who were engaged in the longest sustained conflict in their respective countries history, especially given the horrifying lack of treatment and support once they have served their tours and return to ‘civilization’ with numerous substance, mental and physical abuses to shoulder. I mean crikey, it’s almost as if the administrations that pushed these souls into witnessing and conducting these atrocities don’t actually give a flying fuck about the people who have wrecked their bodies and minds for their political masters, and are still obscuring and distorting the truth in a mockery of a modern democratic society? But I digress. For the first half hour or so of this picture my reaction was somewhat similar to seeing the first Twilight movie given the on-line scorn and hatred which had preceded my screening, sure the direction, blocking and framing is as pedestrian as an elderly bus-pass champion, and the film was tediously traversing the most obvious bio-pic route imaginable – childhood, inciting incident into service, meet-cute scene with love interest, training montage – but it wasn’t exactly horrendous at a technically incompetent or deeply insulting ideological level. This relative calm is shattered once the emphasis shifts to Eye-Rack, Eastwood and his screenwriter Jason Hall detonating an IED of radioactive idiocy, with all the subtly or shading of The Green Berets or Eastwood’s own Heartbreak Ridge.
I think we need to be perfectly clear about this. This is a film which venerates a man whom is proud of killing hundreds of men, women and children. I’ll just say that again, hundreds of men, women and children. Real people, that died in a real war, the consequences of which are still reverberating around the region and abroad today. Now yes of course he was doing his job and this is the unswerving task of a soldier in a lethal war zone, but that does not excuse the moral obligation in examining that distributing dichotomy of killing to save lives, or the mental impact of that behavior within the wider context of the war and still suspiciously unreported war atrocities. Everyone foreign in this film – and by foreign of course I mean the native people of the country that has just been invaded – is a duplicitous, evil, murdering sand-nigger excuse of rag-head vermin, and I’m only deploying such wretched phrases to illustrate just how odious the tone and message of this film ultimately is. It is utterly void of any historical, political or moral context, with numerous characters continually spouting their pathetic jingoistic speeches to an increasingly horrified audience. Another crime is that Oscar nomination for Bradley Cooper, I’ve nothing against the guy and he’s been perfectly fine and occasionally fun from American Hustle to his early debut in Alias, but this single note hagiography is several distant war zones away from any sort of gripping performance, and there is no sense whatsoever of the man behind a duo dimensional ‘America is the greatest country in the world’ spouting nationalism. Core questions such as why a man would enlist for four repeated tours and abandon his new wife (Sienna Miller), his baby son and daughter to risk his life again and again remains unsullied, and finally there is no remotely convincing sense of the PTSD plaguing him upon his return Stateside – well, other than a laugh out loud stupid scene of the sounds of combat and carnage playing across the soundtrack as the camera tilts around Chris’s vacant 100 yard stare, before (gasp) it is revealed that although he’s staring at the TV it’s not switched on and this is all in his head.
That is probably the films most subtle and inspired scene. Prior to this we are presented to a target of shredded clichés which can be obliterated like an airstrike from a A10 Thunderhawk – Can you guess where this crack marksmen takes his new girlfriend on their first date? Why yes, to the fair to win her a cuddly toy at the shooting arcade. Flashbacks reveal Chris’s father is a stern patriarchal type who sermons the family with his bible hewn wisdom over the dining room table, at least when the family are not diligently hanging their heads in fawning penitence at the church. ‘We must be wolves and not sheep’ is asserted as some perversion of moral authenticity, and the frequent combat scenes are orchestrated with all the tension and terror of a 8-bit scrolling platformer. To inject some dramatic density a crack Al-Qaida marksmen is invented as a nemesis to our heroes skillset for a final act showdown that was signaled about ten minutes into the picture, while a bizarrely redundant side-plot for the search for the notorious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi attempts to assert Kyle as some major figure in the military hierarchy. The ‘savages’ are all dark clothed, tan skinned devils who publicly take power-tools to children as part of their war atrocity tribute act to just about every Call Of Duty villain of the past decade. Finally, we have scenes where Chris is mired deep in enemy operations and frequently decides to give his wife a quick call whilst in the midst of combat, the ugliest method possible to try to generate some dramatic tension between the twin impulses of home and the infernal theatre, it’s frankly insulting, ineligible and utterly ridiculous, and the servicemen who genuinely made their sacrifices deserved a much more truthful and honest depiction of the war and its corollaries that this whitewash.
By all that is god-fearing & holy Clint Eastwood needs to hang up his stars & stripes coated monocle once and for all, I didn’t think he could publicly embarrass himself more effectively than that performance at the Republican national conference a couple of years ago, but rather depressingly American Sniper has amplified on the surprise Oscar nominations push by Warner Brothers marketers rather cannily expanding its initial modest release out to 3,500 screens and executed the biggest January weekend take in box-office history. – fucking hell. Therefore, as always, what do us stupid lefty librul critics know eh? Eastwood has crafted some unique achievements, I absolutely adore the Man With No Name trilogy of course, I’ll always mutter ‘Broadsword calling Danny-boy‘ to identify fellow clandestine cinephiles, many of his 1970’s revisionist westerns are very strong and Unforgiven can be argued as a near masterpiece and a core American text of the 1990’s. This film however is literally nauseating and deeply partisan, as divisive as that footage of American numbskulls leaping around bellowing ‘U.S.A, U.S.A’* once the lie of ‘Mission Accomplished’ was foisted on a media brainwashed public, a film so wretchedly bad I didn’t even need to get around to the notorious plastic baby meme which has also become a thing. If this liberates any treasure from the Academy next month then it is sad, sad indictment of the current body politic – America? Fuck no;
* Just to be crystal clear I’m not suggesting this ugly behavior is unique to America by the way, you’ll get equivalent blind, patriotic, stupid, knuckle-dragging xenophobia in every county in the world, including my own…..