For the first time in a couple of months I got out to the theater and caught AMERICAN SNIPER. I didn't really want to see the film but I lost a coin toss and that's just how things go. So how was the film? Well....
Clint Eastwood knows how to make a good film and has proven his abilities over the past few decades to craft a effective, affecting movie. I haven't always been interested in his subject matter but I have always been impressed with his skill. That is true of this film as well. AMERICAN SNIPER is a well made and emotionally charged film - but I just could not connect to it. I've given this some thought and I think there are several reasons for my lack of appreciation of the film.
The biggest problem I had with the film is that I am aware of how much of the story presented is fictional. I understand that this is a movie and I don't expect strict adherence to the verifiable facts in any dramatic narrative, but in this film the most exciting and compelling moments are the fictional ones. The movie spends a good deal of time on the hunt for two characters, one of which did not exist and the other who did, but never crossed paths with the main character of the film. The imaginary one is called the Butcher who is shown as a brutal, nasty bastard whose very name strikes fear into the Iraqi population and to drive this home we are made to witness the Butcher murder a child with a drill in front of his family.
The real world person presented in the film is a supposed Olympic medal winning sniper working for the enemy. Named Mustapha, he pops up throughout the film killing soldiers with astonishing precision and is clearly in the movie to present a black to Chris Kyle's white in the simplistic narrative. But my knowledge that the two were never a factor in each other's lives makes it feel a little odd for the film to try to create such an artificial foe for our hero to vanquish. I think the exploits of the man this movie is based upon are more than impressive enough ingredients from which to build a good story. Why shove these fake elements into this film? Why not tell a more accurate story?
For me this is worst element of the film - it's well made on every level but knowing how I was being lied to by the artificial narrative I always felt the strings being pulled. I felt the heavy hand of emotional manipulation all of the time. Within the first hour I realized what I was watching- a propaganda piece. That doesn't make it a bad movie but it does make me angry that we still create this kind of movie in the twenty-first century. I'll never forget how I felt when I discovered just how little truth there is in the classic film SERGEANT YORK (1941). The movie was produced as propaganda to push American sentiment in the direction of intervention in the European war being waged by Nazi Germany. It's things like this that make me worry - what war are we being prepped for by a film like AMERICAN SNIPER? In the film Kyle often refers to the Iraqi fighters as 'savages' which is what I would expect from soldiers on a battlefield but I don't want it to be the way we think of them anywhere else. It worries me that this is how a large portion of the American population will view the Iraqi War - as a fight against savage animals worthy only of death. I guess as long as we can demonize the enemy we'll always feel righteous as we kill and I'm disturbed by the idea that we still churn out movies to make us feel good about that.
RIDDICK (2013)- 8 (director's cut is even better)
THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936)- 7 (rewatch)
CAST AWAY (2000)- 7
THE SPIRIT (1987)- 4 (terrible TV movie version - but I kind of like it!)
THE HEAD (a.k.a. Die Nackte und der Satan)(1959)- 6 (not bad mad scientist film)
TERROR ON A TRAIN (1953)- 5 (not bad but not great time bomb tale)
CYPHER (2002)- 7 (good SF thriller)
SUPER BITCH (a.k.a. MAFIA JUNCTION) (1973)- 7 (well done Euro-Crime)
BLOODRAYNE: THE THIRD REICH (2011)- 2
THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE (1959) -7 (good thriller)
THE LEGO MOVIE (2014) - 7
$10,000 FOR A MASSACRE (1967) - 7 (solid spaghetti western)
STAR WARS (1977)- 8 (rewatch)
PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS (1977)- 3 (good stop motion saves it from a lesser rating)
SNOW DEVILS (1967)- 4 (rewatch)
A SAINT...A WOMAN...A DEVIL (1977)- 3
SANDOKAN THE GREAT (1963)- 7AMERICAN SNIPER (2015)- 6 (well made but empty)