Tag Archives: American Sniper

Oscar Picks to click

22 Feb

The 87th Academy Awards are upon us, replete with a new host (the affable Neil Patrick Harris who so vividly got his throat slashed in “Gone Girl”) and a wave of controversy that’s been missing since the days of Hanoi Jane. I jest some, but it truly has been some time since there’s been a splitting of political hairs, leading up to, or on, Tinseltown’s big night. The rubs du jour revolve around the factuality of history as represented on film, the politics of the Academy when it comes to recognizing diversity and the disparate interpretations of a war movie that drew diametrical political factions for different reasons. The two films at the crosshairs, “American Sniper” and “Selma,” are both nominees in this year’s Best Picture category.

Sniper,” based on the popular biography of Navy SEAL marksman Chris Kyle (killed tragically as the project took shape) has registered as a patriotic anthem (Kyle notched the most confirmed kills of any rifleman in U.S. military history) to those in support of the current U.S. war efforts. Others have taken it as jingoistic twaddle directed by the man (Clint Eastwood) who ridiculed that now notorious “empty chair” at the 2012 GOP national convention. Those less polarized found “Sniper” hit home as a poignant document of how war destroys the lives of the men we send—something akin to Academy Award winners “Coming Home” (1978) and “Hurt Locker” (2009). Though “Sniper’s” not as sharp, visceral or politically cutting as its predecessors, it’s lineage, dominance at the box office and appeal to many on different levels, will certainly score the film a share of gold come Sunday.

The other movie in the equation, “Selma,” has the opposite problem of “Sniper.” Eastwood’s picture, impressively staged, well edited and shot with great artistry, lacks depth, something “Selma” brims with, but the passionate portrait of Martin Luther King’s legacy-defining march from the titled city to Montgomery, and the events leading up to it, is hobbled by a junior production. I’m not here to fault the director Ava DuVernay. Her ardor and effort is effusive, but some tightening of scenes and more artistic attention to the integration of song and score could have made “Selma” a bona fide contender.

At the fore however, remains the hotly contested matter of history and President Johnson’s involvement. The film initially paints him as a passive obstructionist focused more on legacy building than civil rights (the guy had Vietnam to contend with too), but in the end, his famous televised speech in support of MLK’s mission (voting rights) remains congruent with LBJ’s broadly held, supportive civil rights record (while in the White House). It’s in that grayer in-between that has many crying foul—that historical liberties were taken by the filmmakers to heighten the air of conflict and to drive home their agenda. And it is true, that the portrayed LBJ (Tom Wilkinson) does do something of a political pirouette and never quite rises to anything more than a plot-feeding caricature.  Continue reading

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American Sniper

19 Jan

‘American Sniper’: Clint’s a good shot, but we don’t get man behind the scope

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It’s pretty amazing the quality of films Clint Eastwood has been belting out as he sails well past the octogenarian mark, not just because he’s making movies at that age, but because of the ambition and scope of those films. “Invictus” (2009) took on the shifting tides of apartheid in South Africa, “J. Edgar” (2011), the biopic of America’s long-standing top dick, spanned eras and presidential regimes as America was shaped during the mid-1900s – and then there was the ill-fated but well-intentioned musical “Jersey Boys” (2014). Now we get “American Sniper,” the true story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL in the Iraq War whose remarkable gift is the ability to take out anther human being a mile away. As the billing has it, Kyle, as a marksman,  has the most confirmed kills in U.S. military history.

011615i American SniperKyle’s a pretty good shot; so is Eastwood, conjuring up some hellish gun battles and tense door-to-door incursions with Kyle on the roof keeping his boys safe from the jihadist around the corner with an assault rifle or RPG. He’ll even take out a woman or a child with cool professionalism (but not without a touch of nervous deliberation, to denote his humanity and the conundrum of such an act) should they prove to be the chosen chalice of hateful mayhem. The scenes, rich and rife with conflict and drenched with sun and sand, feel borrowed from Katherine Bigelow’s haunting wartime chronicle “The Hurt Locker,” yet there’s no plumbing of the soul or genuine crisis of conscience in Eastwood’s endeavor. Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper – a fine enough actor, but likely destined for the Kevin Costner outpost of shaggy good looks, nonchalance and zero range – is a square piece of paper, dedicated in his mission to serve, tough, resilient and skilled at what he does, but not much more. Sure he’s got a wife and a mindset, but as the film has it, they’re like hastily chosen add-ons when buying a car.

The book about Kyle (which he penned with two other writers) was a New York Times bestseller and much has been made about the subject in many circles of the press challenging Kyle’s credibility (visit Slate for a start) and virtue. Eastwood, you remember, spoke comically and boldly to a chair at the 2012 GOP National Convention, and you can only guess that there’s a degree of skewed political undertow in the film’s patriotic envelopment. Like the 2013 film “Lone Survivor,” the ostensible pursuit of jingoistic justification and boundaries of true events limit the expansion of character and sociopolitical exploration of war and intertwining of diverse cultures with mismatched agendas. As a result, both films detail harrowing ordeals without being so. From the film, there’s little doubt as to Chris Kyle’s commitment as a protector of his country or as a father, but when the film ends (and it’s on a (and it’s on a tragic note that developed as the film went into production), the definition of who Chris Kyle was remains a mystery.