Monday, February 9, 2015
American Sniper (a movie review post)
The film, as a film, is also not "best" worthy. It doesn't stand out as a movie at all. The thing that sets it apart is that it is a "true" story, so, because of its nomination, it's impossible to look at Sniper as just a movie other than to say that if it was fiction (which it is), no one would care about this movie. It is not powerful in any way other than the tragedy of the life it was based on.
And, by all accounts, that life was a tragedy. Chris Kyle was not a "good" guy. He was an asshole who liked to get into fights, who looked for any excuse to get into a fight, you know, to prove how much of a man he was or whatever. In that, he was the essence of the modern "cowboy" they played him off to be at the beginning of the movie. He was a braggart who let everyone know just how much of a "legend" he was and who exaggerated about how many men he'd killed, even making up stories about men he didn't kill just to make himself look... I don't know, even more "manly" or badass.
Of course, I didn't know Kyle, but those are the kinds of things he said, and those are the kinds of things people who knew him said about him. At least, that's the kind of stuff that was said about him before he was murdered. I don't know if he was turning his life around those last couple of years or not. What I do know is that he proclaimed that all proceeds from his book were being donated to veterans' groups, something which was completely not true. In reality, only about 2% of what was made was donated.
So, in respect to all of that, the movie does seem like a piece of propaganda to me, but a piece of propaganda about Chris Kyle more than anything else. See, in the movie he is this humble guy who doesn't like the reputation he's earned and doesn't like to talk about how many people he's killed. In fact, they play it off as if he doesn't even really know. He's just trying to protect people and the numbers don't matter. Because Kyle is being held up as "true American hero," it's like they needed to re-write his life to make him out to be a nice guy. A nice guy who does his job like any good American would; it's just that his job happens to be killing people. Something he's very humble about.
In the movie, that is. I need to stress that. Because his personality is completely the opposite in the movie to what he was supposed to be like.
Not mention all of the other things they made up for the movie. For instance, Kyle had no sniper nemesis. The whole showdown at the end of the movie was completely made up. He was much younger in life when he joined the military than he was in the movie. Why make him older? That doesn't make any sense at all. Basically, the only things they got right were the very broad strokes. There was a guy named Chris Kyle from Texas who was a SEAL and a sniper who spent time in Iraq. And he had a wife named Taya.
What all of this comes down to for me is one question: What makes a someone a hero? Why are we, as a culture, holding Kyle up as this great hero? I mean, he has his own day, now, in Texas. Is it because he killed a bunch of people? Is that what makes someone a hero? Is it because he risked his life for his country? Because lots of people do that, and we don't consider them heroes. Is it because, at the end of it all, he was murdered while trying to help someone?
I think, certainly, that the movie version of Kyle has been molded into someone whom we would call a hero. Just a humble guy doing his best to serve God, serve his country, and, mostly, sacrificing his family to do it... because family comes third after God and country. But, once home, he is going about repairing the damage he did by being away. He's become a good husband and a good dad and he's still out trying to help people. It makes the tragedy of his death that much worse.
But that's movie Kyle. Of course, that's the Kyle that most of us are going to remember. Now, it is, at any rate. I'm not so sure real life Kyle would meet those heroic standards. Maybe that's not important? Maybe the current cultural need for a "real hero" outweighs the reality of the person. I don't really know.
None of which answers the question about whether you should see this movie. I suppose it depends upon whether you want to see a very black and white (as in there are no foreigners depicted in the movie who are good; they are all savages and none of them can be trusted) representation of a fantastical hero figure who was given a gift by God to shoot people. There are no questions in this movie: We are good. Chris Kyle is good. They are bad, Period.
As a side note, I found it very interesting that The Punisher (from Marvel Comics) was so pervasive in the movie. It is certainly symbolic of the mindset (whether that was based on a fact or not). I would point out that The Punisher is only considered a hero in that he is an anti-hero. He does bad things, evil things sometimes, to bad people because no one else will. He is the only one who decides who deserves those things to happen to them. Is that the "hero" we want America to be equated with? I hope not. If we're going to aspire to a national hero, I'd much prefer Captain America. Maybe we would have done a better job over in Iraq if Cap had been our goal.