Saturday, January 24, 2015

American Sniper

A few thoughts on American Sniper.
Spoiler alert.
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.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Selma: Oversttuffed And Slow, However Worthy

I saw Selma today with Sharon.
I guess we're both in a really small minority but we both thought the movie was a pretty big yawn though with some strong individual scenes. It was, we thought, near to dead at its core. Inert. I found it dragged and I got impatient with it how slowly it moved.
I think it's troubled by how bathed in righteousness it is. I know it's supposed to humanize King, show him in his self doubt and anxiety and uncertainty. But I didn't much believe it. Next time I'm in one of those states of mind, feeling nervous and such, I'll call Deborah Katchko-Zimmerman at 2:00 am to sing to me so I can hear God's voice. This King, and I'm reporting my reaction not trying to be contrarian for its own sake, bored me to drowsiness.
For me that inertness is underscored by high blown and high sounding and morally exemplary so much of the talk is awash in swelling violins and other heart-moving strings. Not one swear word from any of the movie's exemplars. Not even one "God damn," about Wallace or Clarke or a foot dragging LBJ or the Klan, or after the church bombing or the devastation levelled at the first aborted march across the bridge, or the murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson.
My diagnosis of the inertness at the heart of this movie is its failure to make compelling drama out of the great themes it deals with, overstuffed with the glow of righteousness it bathes its exemplars in, the to-me contrived anxiety the movie is intent in showing King suffering from. There's no real internal tension of the movie that grabs you and and pulls you in. It wants to make history into art and it tries way too hard with, as noted, the pompous dialogue--no one talks that way--basking in musical crescendos. 
I thought the scene between Johnson and Wallace, while not the greatest scene ever, Wilkinson failing I thought in conveying the power and complexity of LBJ, Tim Roth--and I'm in a minority here--was pretty good as Wallace, crackled with some real drama and than did any of the dead scenes between the exemplars, including between King and Coretta King. Oprah Winfrey mind you was just great in her small role. She is a vastly under-rated actress and conveys almost innately authentic emotional complexity and pain. 
I obviously appreciate the magnificence of the historic achievement but this movie, despite some of its powerful moments, is for me, in a word, soporific. 
P.S. I don't have any quarrel with how the movie presented the history or its treatment of LBJ.