American Sniper (2014)

I didn’t expect to be as moved as I was. I didn’t know the history of the main character, Chris Kyle, so I didn’t know how his story ended, so I was as surprised as I would have been with any other movie. It lingered with me longer than I expected.

What we’re seeing is not just one character here but a model of manhood in America. The guy can shoot, he can ride rodeo, he can fight, he can survive Navy Seal training, he holds back a woman’s hair when she pukes, he serves on the ground with Marines where he thinks he might be more useful, he uses m’am and sir, he’s a model of manhood. As an American guy I felt it – he’s what you do.

Some stuff played out how I expected, for example, you see a scene start and the way it’s played, who says what, you know who’s getting killed. Other stuff didn’t. I was pretty shocked by a traumatic scene involving a family. Kids are used a lot in this. Kids in danger, kids being coerced for good or ill, kids as a reason to do good or to be responsible. That can be a cheap shot, it’s a reliable source of emotion. But, one scene in the middle that is set up perfectly near the beginning has such high stakes I found myself literally talking to the screen (“don’t go in there”, more or less).
In some of it I knew I was being coerced. I was aware. I went along with it.

Bradley Cooper, who looks an awful lot like the guy as he’s shown in the pictures at the end, pulls off the humble/amazing/leader/gentlemen/troubled guy thing really well.
A couple of things it tries to straddle I don’t know if it totally nails. The PTSD is not played down, but it’s dealt with in a way that doesn’t diminish from his sense of duty. I got the sense that HE could make it in combat, though he could get really scarred, but that others couldn’t, it would be too much for them. Their weakness is alluded to, and there’s a practicality in that in terms of who you’d want in your squad, but in the end, everyone who fights ends up in trouble in their head. I plan on reading the book, I’m curious about how his brother turns out, because he’s a main character early on and then gradually used only to make points about Clark, so maybe he doesn’t do as well.

I did really feel like I got a sense of place. I felt like I knew their house. The domestic drama wasn’t as strong – Cooper, in his role as husband, is better at being stony and then saying something positive, but I read an article today about how this is pretty accurate for how some vets and their wives feel in conversations with vets.

I don’t know about the racist thing. It makes some specific points about good/bad within the Bad Guys (“savages”) and puts a couple of Iraqi people at risk to show their bravery, and it humanizes a critical ‘enemy’ character just long enough, but overall it’s not about making a fair statement about the Iraqi people. It has to demonize them to a certain degree or we wouldn’t empathize – so yes, probably racist.

Again, though, I was inspired after the shock wore off. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve been thinking about it for a while and about Kyle as a role model. That surprised me, I can be pretty cynical, but this hit the right buttons.

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