Star-Spangled Spanner

American Sniper (2014, Clint Eastwood)

Plot:

(Already unhinged) Texan stereotype sees mass-murder (9/11) unfold and gets angry; Man joins army in order to become a hypocrite/mass-murderer, too; Man is inexplicably labelled a hero.

Enjoyment of American Sniper depends on how much you’re willing to ignore. On the one hand, it’s an unforgivably inaccurate, offensive, and brainless attempt at garnering empathy and support for Republican ‘Murica’ via a killer and his SEALS buddies. On the other – if you decide from the outset that you’re going to ignore director Clint Eastwood’s apparent idolatry of someone who’s basically a spree killer (160 lives taken – woo hoo!), and the notion that this film is a love letter to the military, patriotism and dubious heroes, then you’ll have a pretty good time. Bradley Cooper’s excellent performance as emotionally stultified ‘legend’ Chris Kyle helps to justify watching some decent, fast-paced direction, ludicrous action (2km sniping?) and the usual-white-people-dishing-out-‘justice’-to-brown-people.

However, for all its expensive battle scenes and glib machismo – all the usual gay jokes and haircuts are present and correct – it’s when Cooper’s misguided meathead returns home that he – and the film – show signs of promise. His amazingly patient wife (Sienna Miller) isn’t really padded out as a character, so we’re just left with the fact that she inexplicably fails to leave him after he prioritises his country during the course of four (4!) stints in Iraq. Kyle’s struggle between a questionable (ok, ridiculous) loyalty to his country and his new family are played out well, though. Our protagonist’s pent-up, post-war trauma begs to be released in some violent outburst, but it’s pushed away, suppressed. Cooper portrays this with heartfelt, tremulous stoicism, making the viewer (well, me at least) want to shake him and tell him and his mates they’ve been lied to – that they’re fighting so their country can get richer rather than remain ‘free’. And that’s the problem. The film is predicated on the assumption that Cooper and his colleagues are fighting for a worthwhile cause. But they’re not (oil doesn’t count). And when that’s gone, there’s no one to root for. It’s a house built on foundations of sand, and not even Cooper can save it from that.

John Morton

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