An American Movie

Before anything else, we might as well get two things evidencing some sloppiness in the making of American Sniper out of the way. The first is the now infamous baby doll, and the second is the moving RPG. The second was supposed to have been dropped by a would-be terrorist when the Sniper shot him to death. The scene then involves a boy who sees the RPG and decides whether or not to pick it up and shoot it at some American soldiers while the Sniper decides whether or not to shoot the child. The thing is, the RPG kept moving with every shot and you know it took a lot of takes to make the scene. These two scenes were two of the most dramatic moments of the movie — conflict situations — but the sloppiness of the making of it just made it fizzle.

The American Sniper is obviously an American film that tries to tell the story of a man whose exploits during the Iraq War became legendary. I heard it has been nominated for Oscars. What for, I don’t know but from a purely American perspective, it would be hard not to see it nominated for something. It has a lot of substance even if the form suffered a bit as I noted above. It is that substance, however, that creates problems for this film.

Any American watching this film will easily understand where the man’s motivations come from, but to the rest of the world, honestly, the movie represents everything that was wrong with the American-led Iraq War, or, worse, America itself. The Sniper comes across as a chest beating Silverback who feels justified, indeed unmoved, by all the death he is part of. The movie attempts to explain his motivations. The bombing of US embassies in Africa turned him from a cowboy to a soldier, and the 9/11 attacks turned him into the lethal machine that made him legendary…to Americans. America will see a hero. The rest of the world, not so much. There are gaps in the story such that one wonders why the Sniper is perplexed that his brother who also fought in Iraq would curse the country. There was nothing the film that showed he cared about Iraq. As far as we can tell, his only motivation was to protect US Marines like his brother as they operated in Iraq. When his brother cursed Iraq, you would expect him to say “f#%@ yeah” but, no, he is astonished…and we don’t get why.

The movie assumes, of course, that the audience will accept that the attacks on the U.S. were evil pure and simple. Enough to justify the hero to become the legend. I wish that it could be that simple. An American would agree but you cannot make the same conclusion for any body else. The truth is that which America accepts as true are not necessarily perceived as such elsewhere. This is not to say that terrorism is justified. But the treatment of the film is so simplistic that there is a danger that others will view the film as propagandist and/or a justification to fight America.

Parenthetically, is it a prerequisite that a movie about a sniper always involve a sniper-versus-sniper theme? You see it in Sniper, Enemy at the Gates and The Shooter. I didn’t read the book so I hope this isn’t an insertion just to spice up the movie.

This is supposed to be a personal story of one man’s development from a cowboy to soldier to, finally, a human being but we don’t see his humanity. We saw him get back to his family but not how he helped others. The scene where they did show him helping wounded veterans did not really help because it still involved shooting and the dialogue was hard to listen to not because they were mumbling or anything but because of what they were talking about. Death dealing could not, should not, be treated so lightly. I suppose I was expecting more from the man who made Unforgiven such a powerful film and was disappointed. While the story should’ve been about an American, I fear that it might not reflect well for America.

The total effect of the movie is something like the ending of another movie, The Kingdom, where the lead character discloses that he promised his military colleagues that they will get all the terrorists, while the grandson of a terrorist disclosed that his grandfather promised him that they will prevail. It’s all a matter of perspective, and yet, for all the blood and guts spilled and lost, nothing gets resolved. In the end, American Sniper failed to fully explain the man and, unfortunately, might just have made things worse for America.

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