Saturday, January 24, 2015
A few thoughts on American Sniper.
In between ingress and egress of rounds of sleeping over grandkids, I snuck off to take in American Sniper. For some odd reason I didn't get, my wife took a pass. Maybe someone can clue me in why.
I thought it a really good movie, very-- can I use this word-- filmic, very cinematic, alive and absorbing, without being gratuitous, from first scene to last, and with none of the arch stiffness and overdone righteousness and sheer dullness that all marked Selma down in my estimation.
I left thinking one flaw in American Sniper was maybe the failure to render a more complex Chris Kyle, a certain lack of getting more inside both his his head and the meaning of events. But I thought about that some and came to the view that he was what he was, an amazingly straight shooter literally and metaphorically, and that the movie is, at an easy minimum, adequate to that.
My initial niggling found itself eventually landing on what I thought was the glib, or perhaps too easily passed over, post de-enlistment transition in Kyle from a guy seething with psychological wreckage and trauma, which we see only brief glimpses of, to a seemingly recovered constructively whole person.
But the presentation of him in his growing up and in the different phases of his life is well given to us by Eastwood. The metaphor and symbol of the rifle scope marking the narrowness of his original vision of the war and his place in it sets what expands in him over the course of the movie. He transcends the role of sole sniper as he goes on the house to house hunts with the marines and as he gets more leaderly in heading more broad based missions that enfold his role of solitary and removed shooter, a role his Iraqi counterpart, also shown as militarily gifted and with wife and child, persists in.
The hell and horror of war, its fog, swirling dust and sands of confusion, chaos, blinded vision and moral ambivalence are among the strongest things shown in the movie. And their depiction, each foray growing wider in scope, is integral to both the expansion of his soldierly role and and the final defeat of his hitherto indefatigable and unflinching commitment to the cause as he tells his wife he's ready to come home.
His need in between tours to get back into action, restless and dissatisfied with civilian life, reminds me, of course, of Hurt Locker, but with the overall psychological arc more fully given, as I remember Hurt Locker, in American Sniper. That contrast in Kyle is evident in his instantaneous, joyouts, clamorous, boisterous camaraderie with his band of brothers as against his domestic pent up listlessness.
Cooper is just terrific in his role, totally physically and temperamentally convincing and wholly compelling in his portrayal of Kyle, And, to touch on Selma again, the marriage scenes in American Sniper, to my mind, simply put away the stiff artifice of the scenes between MLK and Coretta. Sienna Miller is good too in her relatively brief appearances. But, again, Cooper is more than good. He's superb, a natural, "all the way down," as Justice Kagan said of law in a different context,
For me, American Sniper, in sum, is the depiction of a certain type of quiet, strong man who is at first a black and white true believer while brilliantly gifted in certain of the arts of war all as set in the hell and fog and ambiguity of war, and all of which take their toll on his commitment as his role and vision of things expands. What he is left with at the end is a life-healing commitment to soldiers physically and psychically afflicted. In that commitment, unlike in war itself, there are no greys.