The Sheepdog Cometh.
Clint Eastwood directs Bradley Cooper as AMERICAN SNIPER Chris Kyle in a heroic story about a decidedly unheroic slimeball.
They call Chris Kyle America’s Greatest Sniper, racking up over 160 confirmed kills over four tours in Iraq. Kyle, a Navy SEAL, who supposedly adheres to a much higher code of honor than us regular cucumbers, self-effacingly claims a much higher number. That’s the first of his many lies. (Firstly, why inflate the number? Kyle is portrayed as uncaring of how many people he kills (and how or why he kills them), just happy that “I was protecting my guys.” Secondly, is he trying to outdo war criminal George W Bush for Murderer of the Month in Mass Murderer’s Monthly? Thirdly, why are we lauding a killer anyway – specifically lauding him because he holds the highest kill tally? Oh, because the more enemies a person kills in WAR, the more “heroic” they are. Really? One word: Adolph. He killed even more people than Chris Kyle. For consistency, shouldn’t he be enshrined in American culture as well?) Just because you’re a SEAL doesn’t mean you’re a saint.
AMERICAN SNIPER, like THE HURT LOCKER, labors under the dichotomy of being an exceptionally well-produced movie, set amongst a damnably criminal war of choice (W’s pointless Fake War On Terror).Military guys dressed like Iron Man sneak through Iraqi towns like cockroaches in packs, kicking down doors and terrorizing women and children with their big Amurrican dicks. There is no rationale, no soul searching, no doubt, no questions over what they do and why; it’s just USA-Good vs Iraq-Bad. A thin plot of them searching for clues to the whereabouts of a brutal Iraqi terrorist named The Butcher. And apparently kicking down civilian doors and torturing innocent residents is gonna net them answers. Empty, shallow, meaningless war for dummies, perpetrated by dummies doing the bidding of dummies. But it’s shot well, with excellent production values, lighting and acting, with an INCEPTION soundtrack. That doesn’t mean I’m not sick to death of seeing this visual of military bullies on patrol: ZERO DARK THIRTY, REDACTED, STOP-LOSS; reflected and glorified in video games for the military’s target recruitment demographic.
AMERICAN SNIPER is one montage pasted after another. Montage Kyle’s deer-hunting childhood, where his thick-necked father gives him and his brother advice on the three types of humans: sheep (who make up the majority), wolves (who bully the sheep) and sheepdogs (with an inbuilt desire to protect the sheep from the wolves), intimating that Kyle is the “type” compelled to protect the weak of the herd, his father telling him, “You’re gonna make a fine hunter some day.” Shyeh royt, his father said that. And lo, he becameth a hunter of men! The sheepdog speech is one of the most profound pieces of… bullshit you will ever hear. What was Pablo Picasso then? What was Mohammed Ali? What was Sigmund Freud? What is Arnold Schwarzenegger? Of course it makes perfect simpleton sense to a gun-totin’, belt-wielding, beer-rasslin’ Middle America redneck, and it serves to explain Chris Kyle’s “savior complex,” but it makes absolutely no sense in the real world. Yet despite Kyle being a supposed sheepdog (i.e. the “best of us”), he is portrayed as an anti-social loose cannon, a twitching hair-trigger ticking time-bomb incurious jackass. Who just loved murdering people.
This tale is meant to show us how war drives a wedge between society and this instinctive protector of innocents. But Chris Kyle couldn’t adjust to civilized society even if he wasn’t in war. He utterly neglected his family life, opting to go on tour time and again; he couldn’t hold down a regular job, and even in his youth, he neglected his sweet-ass trailer-trash girlfriend and, by her summation, he was also a terrible lay.
In America, that spells just one thing: Hero.
The movie draws from Kyle’s book, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History (2012, with Jim DeFelice and Scott McEwen). Since its release, a court found that Kyle had fabricated an incident in the book (which he expanded on in TV interviews) involving ex-wrestler/ex-governor Jesse Ventura (awarding Ventura over $1.8 million). Now if Kyle lies about those big stories, imagine all the little details he might fabricate about the rest of his life, all while claiming that sniping per se did not mean much to him, that his nickname “Legend” was embarrassing, that he never counted his kills… in purveying humility, able to then claim bad-assery at every turn. In the book’s first pages, we realize what a dunderhead Kyle truly is – through his own words – as he claims he was fighting “savage, despicable evil” in Iraq; that his first kill (a woman allegedly holding a grenade) was “too blinded by evil” to consider innocent bystanders. Royt… so all those other fake reasons in the Pointless War On Terror didn’t register one jot with this patsy (oil, empire-building, stop them over there, 9-11, etc.) and his focus was on the evil. Did you even try to glean Clue One about the historical context of this conflict, drogue? Nope, they gave you a gun and sprayed a hose on you and now you’re the macho man arbiter of good and evil!
He writes, “I loved what I did” – and the Iraqi woman also loved killing; he was killing for God and country and – hey! So was she! If there’s a foreign occupation on American soil, let’s see how quickly you would blow them to hell, Chris. Put yourself in the head of that woman who is seeing AMERICAN TANKS ROLLING DOWN HER IRAQI STREET. Think on how brave she is for sacrificing her life for her fellow countrymen. Isn’t that what you would do, Hero?… There is none of this awareness in Kyle’s book or in the film. It’s a one-sided juggernaut of ignorance. Which is why this whole affair is so disappointing. America is honoring an incognizant empty vessel.
Montage Kyle’s rodeo days, his decision to join the military, bootcamp, where he is constantly sprayed with firehoses (which I’m becoming more certain is some kind of gay allegory), Meet Cute with future wife at a bar (where she vomits in the bushes from all the shots she downs, coincidentally while I was vomiting in my mouth from the gomer dialogue); courting at the fair, winning a big bear, marriage, call to arms…
Montage Tour One, and Kyle’s defining moment: his first kill – that Iraqi woman and a dramatic license young boy, created from whole cloth because – Hollywood. The decision Kyle makes to gun them both down is clinical, which is realistic (kudos to the filmmakers), because SEAL training (like astronaut training or cop training) is designed to leach the humanity out of you, to be able to perform your sociopathic job effectively without fear of conscience. But what should concern us is that the film concretizes what was merely conjecture. That is, what did the woman have in her hand? Kyle reports it as a grenade (his military drogue compatriots would concur to cover their own asses) – but was it? [YouTube comment, by Buck Rogers: “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”]
Even if the purpose of any biopic is not to concentrate on banal details but to capture the spirit of its protagonist – as in IMMORTAL BELOVED capturing Beethoven’s brute force through a hideously misrepresentative story, or AMADEUS capturing Mozart’s beguiling charm through a blaze of factual errors – AMERICAN SNIPER captures the spirit of a vacant redneck sharpshooter who hasn’t got a clue how the world works (yet has the temerity to write, “We killed the bad guys and brought the leaders to the peace table. That is how the world works.” Wow. Great plan. Why didn’t congress think of that? Isn’t it great how there’s so much peace in Iraq now, Chris Kyle? Thank you for bringing the leaders together with your intelligent diplomatic maneuvering.).
Wife Taya (Sienna Miller, doppelganger for Lindsey Connell, Tracy on QUEER AS FOLK) starts bitching about his military service almost immediately. And doesn’t stop. “I need you home! When are you coming home! I’m making memories by myself! Even when you’re here, you’re not here!…” Considering he picked her up in a bar, which she specifically visited to get drunk and laid by a military guy, I’d say there are also some lost anecdotes and coverups from her angle. Kyle leaves this smokin’ tail home alone for four tours of Iraq and she wasn’t propositioned or cultivated once by military mongs whose only drives are murder, food and sex? I’m not buying it. Tour One, Kyle returned home to the clichéd reconciliation on the runway. By Tour Four, he just doesn’t call her when he’s back, opting to visit a bar for a few hours first. So that’s how Heroes treat their wives. I must remember to mention that in my lecture to schoolkids about heroism…
Montage Tours Two and Three lose focus, as the film’s unique dynamic is diluted when Kyle “decides” to leave his sniping post and join the troops on the ground because he can sheepdog them better at close range. Apparently, the military is so liberal, they just let you wander into whatever unit you feel suits you best. Good for them! You go, girls! Kyle partakes of the fun with the unthinking drogues kicking down doors and interrogating Iraqis. Apparently, the louder Kyle shouts in English, the more the Iraqis will understand him. Translation is just a case of volume.
Montage Tour Four and film restores its grim tone with Kyle back on the rooftops as Joe Cool. Firing at Iraqis who were trained by Imperial Stormtroopers, simply running out in the open and firing blindly.
AMERICAN SNIPER lacks a compelling hero – even though it is taken for granted by default that because Kyle is in the military he is automatically a hero. The protagonist in this film simply does a job that he is trained to – he does the job exceptionally well, we are told – then he returns home. The End. (By that criteria, let’s give a medal to the Burger King manager in Downtown LA, the guy who checks the hydraulics on the landing gear of international flights at JFK Airport, and the guy who doesn’t let any stock get stolen by gangbangers at the CWS pharmacy in Compton.) Kyle’s conflicts (his love of murder coupled with his bitching wife) are not grave enough to warrant a sizeable arc. And the actual enemy – as in the real war – is amorphous and unidentified. So Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall make up a nemesis for Kyle – an Iraqi sniper (Sammy Sheik) who was an Olympic shooter. Kyle’s final shot is against this other fearful sniper – a mile away, while under attack, during a sandstorm. Yes, and when *I* was a kid, I used to walk twelve miles to school without shoes, in the dark, in the snow.
Kyle’s resolution to finally go home is also dramatic license (why stop now?): we see his rifle, helmet and comm abandoned on Iraqi soil, slowly swallowed by the sandstorm; he has finally laid those ghosts to rest. Is that how it happened? Nah.
Buffed and buffooned Bradley Cooper has eschewed all the glitter and glam of previous roles (even his supposed “damaged” character in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK was just Phil from THE HANGOVER on better drugs) and battened down to basically play Clint Eastwood (don’t just do something – stand there) with a gomer Texan accent. A startling change of gears that finds him carrying the movie with a terse natural swagger, and it might just win him some little statues (if he can make it past the controversy of playing such a lying shithead).
I’m disappointed that a true Legend, Clint Eastwood, after an unparalleled career of hero and anti-hero roles, could not perceive that Chris Kyle was neither. Whereas Clint might have made this movie as yet another damnation against war, it is instead a pointless puff piece. Clint has always been a filmmaker who bravely took chances making hard statements: that sometimes death is more preferable than a broken life (MILLION DOLLAR BABY); that a man overboard in a military convoy will be left to drown despite all the rhetoric of No Man Left Behind (FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS), etc. The characters he played were avenging angels who knew right from wrong no matter the populist pc view or the law. And – surprisingly – he has always advocated for pacifism even through his most violent movies (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, et al). Yet the confused old-man dementia that seeped into his 2012 Republican National Convention speech has at last infused his once-sober filmmaking. As he elevates an unworthy hero, by painting a pedestal under an unbalanced anti-social mug, he simultaneously dismantles his own hero mythos before our eyes.
“I was just protecting my guys. They were trying to kill our soldiers and I’m willing to meet my creator and answer for every shot that I took. The thing that haunts me are all the guys that I couldn’t save.”
The psychiatrist who hears these words puts Kyle in touch with guys who need saving Stateside… Kyle finds a calling as a mentor for wounded vets. (Vets? Is this something to do with that sheepdog thing?) Which would be his undoing. Four tours of Iraq and Kyle is killed in the United States – by another PTSD vet. [imdb comment by CGlMDB: “Death by irony.”]
Final title card: “Chris Kyle was killed that day by a veteran he was trying to help.” No details. (Apparently, as screenwriter Hall finished the first draft of the script, Kyle was murdered the very next day.) Cue actual footage of Kyle’s funeral procession, lined with admirers along the highway; his eulogy picture, his coffin, festooned with tributes from his fellow SEALs.