Monday, January 19, 2015

Film Review: American Sniper (2015)

On 1st May 2003, after only 21 days of ‘combat operations’, U.S. President George W. Bush stood on the USS Abraham Lincoln underneath a ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner and gave a speech that contained the immortal line: “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”  By November 2011 when the last active American troops crossed the border into Kuwait, the war had cost $1 trillion dollars and led to an estimated 500,000 Iraqi ‘violent deaths’.  And there is one man who is arguably responsible for the most recorded instances of Iraqi deaths and has just been immortalized by cranky libertarian director Clint Eastwood

Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was a rodeo cowboy from Texas who enlisted as a U.S. Navy Seal sniper after witnessing the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi.  During his training he meets and marries Taya (Sienna Miller) before being deployed to Iraq shortly after witnessing the September 11th attacks on TV.  In his first of four tours of Iraq, he quickly earns the nickname The Legend after clocking up an inordinately high number of “confirmed kills”, including women and children who he sees targeting American troops.  By his later tours he has become so notorious to the Iraqi insurgents that he has a bounty placed on his head and he himself becomes the target of an expert Iraqi sniper, Mustafa (Sammy Sheik).

During his intervals back in Texas between deployments, Taya gives birth to their first child and Kyle becomes progressively more disturbed by reminders of what he has seen in Iraq – yet he refuses to confront his demons, which leads to a growing tension between the couple. 

Over the last decade, countless many millions of hours have been spent analysing and dissecting the war (and obviously the ongoing war in Afghanistan – the longest war in U.S. history), yet from the current vantage point from 2015, it seems that no one can really decide whether it was a victory or a defeat for America.  And it is this ambiguity that clouds the reaction to Clint Eastwood’s biopic of Chris Kyle:  If you supported the war and in hindsight recognize a victory, then chances are that you will like this film, if you opposed the war and consider it an ethical and legal mistake then it is hard to empathise with the lead character and his mission.

The film is split between the treacherous evacuated city of Fallujah, where Kyle and his fellow troops are told that all of the ‘military-age males’ are there to kill them and should therefore be exterminated, and the relative domestic tedium of Texas.  Shots depicting Iraqi are mostly handheld with frenetic editing, compared to static tripod shots of breakfast tables and lounges.  Eastwood has purposefully enhanced the action and excitement of war and the stillness of peace.  This alienation Kyle feels back in the States, and the growing comfort he feels in combat has explosive consequences towards the end of the film, which is revealed in an understated yet powerful final minute.

The initial suggestion of his growing detachment from his family life comes when he is driving his pregnant wife and complaining about the civilian ambivalence to the war, he rants about how there is a ‘war going on and no one can see it’, whilst unbeknownst to him his wife begins to go into labour…

The most intriguing scene in the film occurs early on when the Navy Seal officers are training the new recruits.  About 50 of them are lying on the floor pedalling into the air as the commanding officers use a hose to spray them in the face; an act when seen in the aftershock of the CIA torture revelations seems very reminiscent of waterboarding.  This analogy of training as torture seems to be used as an excuse for the subsequent brutality on the battlefield.

The film takes itself incredibly seriously (except for one laugh-out-loud moment with a slow-motion rifle bullet shoots through the sky) and has managed to accrue a portentous 6 academy award nominations – including one for the mostly motionless and deadpan Cooper.  Yet it is probably the Republican, Anti-Hollywood patriotic demographic who normally forgo serious dramas that have caused American Sniper’s continuing success.

But then if the purpose of the film is to reassert American military might and rugged individualism in the run up to an election cycle then in the words of almighty George 'Dubya' Bush: Mission Accomplished…

No comments:

Post a Comment