A long time friend suggested we both see Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper and then get together to talk about the film.
We haven’t had that talk in person yet, but I suggested we could both write about the film, and I’d post what we both wrote (without having seen each other’s comments).
I’ve posted his first and mine afterwards.
Please feel free to add your thoughts, civilly of course, in the Comment section of this post.
If You Want to Understand Courage, Go See American Sniper
Review by David Stang
My good friend Rick Miller challenged me to write a review of American Sniper for his blog after I sent him this accolade regarding that film and praise for Clint Eastwood: “Eastwood is my archetype of manliness and courage. His American Sniper is spectacular.”
So what I’m going to do is tell you why I admire Eastwood and his films, including Sniper. Why do I praise him? What is his message? It means in part that adversity builds character. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
This kind of value system was drummed into me since I was a kid. Never say “Uncle.” When you are boxing and your opponent knocks you to the deck, you don’t cry and run home to Mama. You don’t become a Mama’s boy. You get up off the deck, shake it off and go knock your opponent on his butt, and if he gets up, you knock him down again.
When you are running a race you run past the guy ahead of you. Even if every muscle in your body hurts so bad it feels like you are going to die you keep running and passing guys in front of you until you win the race.
If you are playing football and you are on offense, you score touchdowns. If you are on defense, you hit your opponent so hard he fumbles the ball, and you have a turnover, and you convert that turnover to a touchdown.
What it means to play on a team is that you protect your buddy’s back. This is true in sports. True in the military. True in the work place. True at home. True in marriage.
Marriage? Marriage as well? Yes, indeed. What many women have respected about a good man since caveman days is that he is reliable, strong, courageous. He is his wife’s protector, provider and trustworthy companion. He cares enough to give his heart and life for her. He cares enough to give the same for his family and friends.
As a military man, he cares enough to lay down his life for his country. In the work place, he is an achiever, a go getter. He makes things happen. Whatever he does, he gives it his best. He is a winner, not a loser.
When Clint Eastwood was acting, these were the values he portrayed in the characters he played. He was a tough guy. When the bad guy threatened to kill Dirty Harry, Eastwood’s response was “Make my day!” I recall attending nearly all of his early films including A Fist Full of Dollars, A Few Dollars More, The Bus and others. In fact I’ve enjoyed every Eastwood film I ever saw.
Since he became a director and producer, these same values are what he continues to exhibit in the films he makes. The heroes in his movies represent the archetypes of these values. He selects dramatic situations which demonstrate that these principles are particularly applicable in the extremes.
American Sniper too epitomizes Eastwood’s values. As a young boy growing up in Texas, our protagonist was taught by his father to hunt. While still a kid, he became a sharpshooter. After high school, he became a rodeo cowboy, fearlessly riding bucking broncos. When he saw news reports of the horrific 911 bombings, he signed up to become a Navy SEAL. Navy SEALs are the toughest guys around. Many are called but few are chosen. He was older than most of the other SEAL trainees, but he stuck with it and succeeded.
Our protagonist was trained to be a sniper and sent to Iraq. He faced extreme situations. To protect his buddies he made morally tough choices. He made these soul-straining decisions not because he had a blood lust and really enjoyed killing people but rather to protect his fellow troopers and to defeat the authors of 911.
His reputation as a fearless super hero grew. He was targeted by al Qaeda as their number one enemy and tracked day and night. He maintained a cool-headed sense of humor in the face of constant danger. He grieved for his buddies who were slain without allowing himself to become dispirited. He was given the nearly impossible task of taking out two of al Qaeda’s top snipers who were picking off American troops like flies.
His commitment to his cause was unflagging. He signed up for four tours in Iraq. His long suffering wife who wanted him to be home caring for his family almost left him. But, during his fourth tour, he woke up to her concerns and came home to be a good husband and daddy.
In his spare time he volunteered to visit veterans with missing arms, legs and those suffering missing minds due to PTSD. Our man was Eastwood’s archetype of courage, heart and tenacity.
These are the values of what my buddy Rick would call a mensch.
American Sniper: A Polemic? ***
Review by Richard Miller
A professional movie reviewer once told me that when she was new to her job, she received the following advice from a film critic who had been doing the work for 30 years:
Think about these three questions:
*What was the director trying to do?
*How well did he/she do it?
*Was it worth doing?
Not being a professional or trained reviewer of films, I kind of like that as a frame for looking at films. It gives me a way of thinking about a film beyond just “Did I like it or not?” It helps me focus on the film itself and not what I want a film to be.
If I use that frame for thinking about Clint Eastwood’s just released box office hit American Sniper, I come up with the following:
Although we can’t know everything Eastwood was trying to do, it seems clear he wanted to make a film about a particular individual, Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL, known as the “Legend” for his sharp shooting skills honed over four tours of duty in Iraq and for his successes in ‘taking out’ enemy forces and in protecting American troops.
In addition, I suspect Eastwood was also intent on portraying what it means to be a soldier in war today, both what it is like in the war zone and what it is like when that soldier returns home.
Using Kyle’s autobiography, also titled American Sniper, as a starting point for his film, Eastwood has certainly given audiences a tribute to Kyle. With his usual craftsmanship, Eastwood has directed a film that will grab you from the opening scene, keep you focused throughout and will stay with you long after you have left the theater.
American Sniper both glorifies Kyle and the war in Iraq and also shows you the toll it takes on Kyle, on other soldiers and on their families at home. Eastwood does that well too.
However, it is the answer, my answer, to the third of the three questions above that troubles me the most about American Sniper.
And that question begins with an underlying premise of the film.
In making this film the way he did, Eastwood perpetuates the view that what Kyle did, what happened in Iraq and what the U.S. forces did was justified and right.
Kyle is portrayed as motivated to participate in the war particularly because of two terrorist events he saw on TV, one towards the US in East Africa and the other the tragedy of 9/11. Both are calls to arms for him. Kyle — and Eastwood too — appear to accept without question that the war in Iraq is a noble endeavor because it is linked to these acts of terrorism and to our response to that terrorism.
That is a premise I cannot accept.
And what follows from this premise is the view that we are on the side of all that is good and that our enemy is on the side of all that is evil. Kyle makes this clear when he declares he “hated the damn savages.”
As we now know, the link between those terrorist acts and our invasion of Iraq was based on a false premise and manufactured arguments that Iraq was behind those attacks on the U.S. The film perpetuates the lies told to the nation that our invasion and fighting in Iraq justified both the killing of Iraqis and the deaths — as well as the physical and psychological wounds — suffered by our solders.
And that makes me question whether American Sniper was little more than a polemic.