Friday, July 3, 2015

Get your priorities straight…


The Chris Kyle murder trial was a huge deal near me.  It took place roughly 40 minutes from my house, and so that is all I heard about for months.  The murder itself was a big deal, but after the movie it was like our whole area capitalized on the success of the film in order to make this trial is BIG DEAL.  Regardless of your thoughts on war itself, there is no denying that Chris Kyle’s story is not only a fascinating one, but a profoundly poignant one.  I will never hide my neutrality.  I hate warfare and find it to be an unnecessary means and I am NOT ok with the way that this particular war transpired and progressed, but that is no disrespect to the men and women who lay their lives on the line for something they believe in.  Granted, not all are there for the right reasons (I literally had to sit at dinner for a week on a cruise with strangers, one of which was a marine, and hear them talk about how the only reason they would want to go to war would be to kill people), but for those who are there for a just cause, I can’t fault them their convictions.

Chris Kyle seems to have been there for the right reasons.

Still, ‘American Sniper’ takes those best of intentions and helps us to see why war is such a disastrous ‘means to an end’.  I only wish that it had developed those themes a little tighter.



Chris Kyle was a legend.  He was known as Legend thanks to his kill count as a sniper for the US Army as a Navy SEAL.  The saying goes that there are some things you can’t un-see.  My grandfather fought in World War II and spoke many times of the things he saw when he closed his eyes (one such story, of lampshades made with human skin, haunted my childhood), and so, as Kyle’s story is told, we can see in his eyes the things he’s reliving, the things he’s still seeing.  As Kyle spends his time on his tours we see his personality change, and this makes coming home all the more difficult, because these are all things he takes with him.  His reaction to his fellow soldiers after a kill says it all.  While at first he’s filled with a hesitant pride (“What did I just do?  I can’t believe that was me.”), his demeanor eventually portrays an inner self-loathing and almost guilt (“What did I just do?  I can’t believe that was me.”).

For me, ‘American Sniper’ is on the cuff of greatness, but loses sure-footing with a lack of focus.  By continually switching from Kyle’s time in the trenches so-to-speak to his time at home, the core of this story doesn’t have time to fully develop.  That internal struggle that Kyle undergoes when he’s home isn’t given the due attention it deserves, and the finale loses almost all momentum as the ending gets a ‘tacked on’ treatment that undercuts the impact it could have had.  I’m not suggesting anything like showing the murder, because it’s too new, too fresh to be an appropriate thing to show, but Kyle’s own emotional turnaround isn’t given the attention it deserved.  His shift from introverted and depressed to ‘filled with purpose’ and happy was too swift.  It basically happened within the confines of a single scene, and so it felt underdeveloped.  I take that back; it didn’t ‘feel’ underdeveloped, it WAS underdeveloped.

This, for me, was a real shame.

While I understand the importance of the war scenes, and some of them were absolutely stellar in their technicality, they became redundant in many ways and could have been trimmed, some even excluded altogether, in order to focus more on what Kyle was going through at home.  The front end and back end of the film were in dire need of more development.  The relationship with his wife Taya was also painfully underdeveloped, and while Sienna Miller (what a comeback she’s having) delivers some heartbreaking moments, she felt like a plot point to me, like a character that was exploited for her tears (notice how just about every scene she’s in, save her introduction, she’s crying) and dramatic effect.

Miller's on the set...cue the tears!
The savior of this film, surprisingly, is Bradley Cooper, who delivers his most mature and defined work to date.  I am not his biggest fan, and I’ve made that clear before, but here he completely derailed me.  He does so much with the underdeveloped lines in the screenplay, coloring in every single scene he’s in (which is nearly every single scene) with this complete understanding of Kyle’s emotional development.  You feel his shifts, even when the script refuses to define them.  His eyes KILLED me.

And be forewarned: Eastwood GOES THERE with this, presenting some startling images and scenes that almost feel too far (the child killing is brutally extreme) but represent the realities of war with crushing detail.

So, in the end I admire what Eastwood was trying to do here.  He presented a story that underscores the atrocities of war without being a direct advocate against it.  It’s a film that can appeal to both sides of the coin, giving those who are pro-war the stirring feeling of a united brotherhood and the passions of protecting the country we love and also giving the anti-war advocates the crushing realism that causes us to take the stance we have taken.  It isn’t partial, bias or preachy (which is not what I was expecting, to be honest).  It just tells its story.

I just wish that it had told it a little deeper.


B-

18 comments:

  1. I hate to admit that I know very little of Chris Kyle's story, which is probably why I want to see American Sniper so much. When I saw the trailer late last year I literally forgot to breathe!
    Great review :)
    - Allie

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    1. Thanks Allie. It's a very moving and poignant story, so I recommend seeing it. My only wish is that Eastwood gave more development to the aspect of the story that deserved it most.

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  2. This is an excellent review and makes me want to see the film all the more. I think Clint Eastwood would understand both sides since he grew up and was a star when Vietnam was in full tilt and he saw first hand the negative impact and understood it even though his own personal beliefs may be closer to John Wayne since he is a Republican from what I know. The one thing he probably can't truly understand is PTSD. If one does not truly "get it", it might ring less true so he was unsure on how to film it. It is also the writing of it as well. Interesting and need to see this. Shame about the people on the cruise

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    1. I think you'll like this, so I hope you get a chance to see it soon.

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  3. Lovely review Fisti. I've been debating whether or not to see this film. I come from a family who has a long military history-- my father, my grandfather, my great uncle, my great grandfather and so on. That side of my family is part African American/Native America, so the military has truly been a blessing for my family, as it was the place where they were able to flourish in American society. So I have tremendous respect for the American military, but I remain unsure about this film or its portrayal of Chris Kyle. I think Jesse Ventura (who was also a Navy seal) won a lawsuit against this guy for defamation. It is very tragic that his life was lost to senseless violence, but I'm not sure about the accuracy of this film.

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    1. Thanks Mariah, and I'm really happy that the military was able to help your family the way it did.

      As for the Kyle controversy, I'll admit that when the controversy was brewing, I wasn't really concerned with it because I didn't have a huge desire to see this film, but I will say that what is portrayed here feels very balanced. They aren't really even portraying Kyle as some sort of 'hero' as much as a man good at what he did that was heavily affected by the war. He's just a normal man who is no longer normal because of what he went through.

      In that regard, I think the film captures a 'truth', even if there is more to the story than that.

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  4. I don't think I even finished this one. I was just bored with it and a bit repulsed with the whole twin towers falling - must go to war scene. But yeah, Cooper was good

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    1. I have to say, the twin towers scene made me shake. I still remember exactly what I was doing when I got the frantic call to turn on the news. It was completely surreal, and that feeling of "let's go to war" is something that a lot of people felt. I think that is something that is going to speak louder to Americans than to anyone else, and may be why you didn't connect to it or found it repulsive.

      Like I said, I am completely and totally anti-war, but I understand the passionate feeling of defending our country that so many got on that day. It was palpable, whether you share it or not.

      But, it really boils down to Cooper for me here. He is the reason to see this film.

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    2. I think what irked me is that that scene was a total fabrication on writers' part, at least I believe I read it around the time the film was released that it was a scene completely invented for the film and Kyle decided to go sooner than 9/11. So I found it to be grossly manipulative, but still not as bad as the awfulness of including the actual voice recordings during the attack in ZD30's beginning.

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    3. Yeah, I can understand that, but with films like this, those liberties are only to be expected to heighten the intensity or the swell of emotion.

      But, as I said, the front and back end of this film really needed some more detail, and that includes everything prior to Kyle joining the army.

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  5. I thought American Sniper was really, REALLY good - Cooper was incredible, and Eastwood's directing was tight as a drum - until the end. Up until that point, the film was practically a horror film about a serial killer, legitimized by finding the perfect outlet for his proclivities. It walked a very difficult line between glorifying this man and demonizing war and killing in general: This is a man who had a talent, was fed lines about protecting the flock and America being the best practically from birth, was turned into a killing machine for his nation, and was fucked up by it, despite his protestations to the contrary. But then, that ending. The real footage of the man's funeral procession. No sound but "Taps" playing on the soundtrack. And then the credits in silence. I don't know that it was the WRONG choice necessarily, but it felt like it was coming from a completely different film than the one I had been watching for the previous two hours. Up until that point, though, I thought it was a far more even-handed film than what most people made it out to be.

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    1. The ending was most certainly tacked on, but it was a tricky situation. Chris Kyle died the day after the first draft of the film was handed in, so it was obviously not the intended end to his story...and then how to you handle that now? It's so fresh, so new. There was talk of showing the murder, but that would be hard to take, especially for his children. I think that's why the whole end feels so rushed, because it wasn't supposed to be that way.

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  6. You've got something here. I praised this film highly, but it's not a perfect film. (Using your grading scale, I would be probably A/A-.) You may be onto something with the sort of unbalanced nature of the movie's structure. It could've certainly been more even. In thinking back, parts of this movie did feel tacked on. However, the end, the silence, the shift Daniel is talking about up there, I found odd in the same way, yet so powerful. In a theater full of people, this movie ended and there was not a peep. Walking slowly out in a line, you could hear a pin drop.

    Now, you remember all the bullshit about this movie, I'm sure. That devastated me, and only made me love this movie more. It was seriously as if (and probably was) these people hadn't even seen the film. This movie, as you said, is just as much an anti-war statement as it is pro-war or, worse, pro-killing. Bradley Cooper's eyes did all the work in helping us feel that duality. He did not want to kill, but he did his job well. There's a range of emotion in that that I couldn't fathom. I believe Cooper nailed that. I'm so glad to hear that you appreciated this performance as much as I do. Eastwood's direction in the war sequences is of the best I've seen. I'd say he and his editors could have fashioned a more balanced narrative out of this, but as it stands, it so worked for me. And it hit me hard, then stayed with me for days.

    Great review, man! You really make some valid points here and get them across perfectly.

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    1. Like I mentioned to Mariah, I honestly don't remember the controversy about the film (outside of a few comments made on Twitter) because I didn't really have a desire to see the film and so I didn't pay attention. So, I'm not really sure what the issue was...

      That said, if it had to do with the film being 'pro-war' or 'anti-war', like I said and like you said, this film is so balanced in it's perception of war that you can't really complain there, so "get behind me, BS".

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    2. The BS I'm referring to was people all over the place talking about how this movie glorifies killing and war. A lot of supposedly "funny" stuff on Twitter that I just didn't find funny. A lot of moron rednecks doing "Hell Yeahs!" and such. There was just so much cynicism and snark surrounding it from people who seemed to have not even seen it.

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    3. I think a film's message should never be confused with what ignorant people perceive that message to be.

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  7. Great review man! It's Eastwood's best film in years. While I had similar reservations, Cooper and Miller give terrific performances.

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    1. It really did lie in the acting.

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