Oscar nominee is horrible

2015-02-15 18:30

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American Sniper

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

I’ll cut right to it. This was a horrifying film.

It was well made, but that’s no surprise, because Clint Eastwood has been making movies for so long he could probably direct with one eye open. He also talks to empty chairs on stage.

The acting in the film is not bad. No one would doubt Bradley Cooper isn’t a drawling bearded Texan and Sienna Miller isn’t a no-nonsense brunette. And nowhere is their acting talent tested more than “the scene with the fake baby”. If you’re wondering about it: apparently, yes, the real baby didn’t show up for work that day.

But at the heart of Oscar nominee American Sniper is an attempt by Eastwood to find a hero in an episode in human history that can tragically produce no heroes – only victims.

One of those victims is the man at the heart of this story: the navy Seal Chris Kyle. He was the “most successful sniper in US military history”, taking out at least 160 “targets”.

After giving up on his dream to be a cowboy, he trains as a Seal and then ships out to Iraq after 9/11 to “protect his country”.

The film is almost solipsistic – everything happens in Kyle’s little head. It offers a brutal exposé of the reality of war – his first kill is a child trying to toss a grenade at a tank – and the violence never lets up.

We are also brilliantly shown how it must feel to have post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly after Kyle’s third tour.

Nevertheless, the morality of the war is never questioned. At one point, Kyle asks another Seal: “Would you rather be fighting them here or in San Diego or New York?”

He never questions that he’s making the world a better place.

But Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks – and we have known for a long time Iraq had no weapons trained on anyone, particularly not the US.

There’s also no self-awareness here that the US has actually left the world unimaginably worse off, with the Islamic State now in control of Iraq and Syria, and Iraq itself wrecked and irradiated, with US veterans struggling to reintegrate into society.

Throughout this film, the Iraqis are invariably referred to only as “savages”.

At no point does Eastwood try to humanise the people the occupying US force encounters. They are often merely like sprites in a video game – particularly towards the end – good only to be shot at and turned into blood splatter.

I was waiting for Kyle to have his Kurtz moment. But the heart of darkness here is too dark even for that.

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