Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Oscars 2015: Best Picture Reviews - American Sniper

Clint Eastwood is usually one of my favorite directors, mainly because I feel like he's not afraid of controversy when making films. So I was terribly disappointed in American Sniper, because it felt like everyone was afraid to shift the film in any direction out of fear of alienating another side. To me, that's dumb. Movies aren't about whether you agree with the politics of the story or character; they're about showing you the world through someone else's eyes.

I always liked Bradley Cooper when he was on Alias, but then he made The Hangover movies, which I hated. I held out hope, though, and I was so happy to see him in Silver Linings Playbook. I loved him in that movie and really wanted to see him win an Oscar, but he unfortunately was up against Daniel Day-Lewis. I feel like he's in the same situation this year, with much better performances likely to outshine his (and this wasn't as good as Silver Linings Playbook). Still, clearly the man can act and I am so happy he's taking on these more challenging roles, because I want to see him in movies like this. I will admit, though, that I dislike Sienna Miller, for no real reason but I don't like her acting very much, and there's basically no one else in this movie with anything resembling a character or traits.

The biggest challenge this film was facing was that there's a lot of division about how likable Chris Kyle was in real life. Personally, I don't care at all about that. It's someone's life story, and whether he was or was not a good person has nothing to do with the fact that he was important to our military history. Clearly he was. Also is the debate about the war and its legitimacy, but again, this is not relevant to the film. One's personal feelings about the war have nothing to do with whether the movie is good or bad, and they certainly have nothing to do with the soldiers fighting it. (This makes me a little nuts, because being opposed to the war is one thing, but soldiers are just doing their jobs. And putting themselves and their families at risk for it, so I don't see what that has to do with feelings about government actions.)

For me, though, this movie was a huge letdown. I feel like it was, overall, a wasted opportunity to talk about something of real value. Part of the challenge, it seems, is that the current war in Iraq is really the first time in cinematic history that films are being made while the war is in progress. It took almost 10 years for films to be made about Vietnam after the war ended. Historically, we weren't kind to soldiers coming home then, either, but we weren't sitting through movies each year about it. In some ways, Hollywood is giving us a chance to understand, but it's also generating more anti-war sentiment, too. Don't get me wrong - we should be allowed to discuss world events. I just would like to see a more balanced approach (not that this is something we do anymore as human beings...).

Where I felt the movie truly missed its mark was in addressing the internal conflict of coming home. It touches upon it, but it's like everyone involved was afraid to make any statements. The Hurt Locker did this exceptionally well, and I kept waiting for it here. Yet when Kyle was at home, it felt rushed. I also found the last thirty minutes to be a majorly missed opportunity. There are certainly signs of PTSD in Kyle's return and maybe he personally didn't address them much in his memoir (I admit I haven't read it). However, PTSD is such an important topic, but we see Kyle return, struggle to adjust, and then suddenly be fine. The guys he's helping are all dealing with PTSD and mental health issues from the war, but it's glossed over out of fear, I guess. I couldn't believe it when he finally got to the hospital and started working with PTSD vets, and the movie was only a few minutes from the end. Two hours led to a tacked on ending, when I think the real story is about what soldiers see, and what they bring home with them from war.

Given the ultimate ending to the film and Kyle's story, it is shameful that the movie doesn't touch upon this. I am not saying it should excuse what happened, but I also think that it was a great opportunity to shed some light on something we all need to be part of fixing. And if the film decided from the start it only wanted to show the war itself, then maybe the ending should have been left out entirely. Overall, it just felt as if there was so much fear of picking a side that the entire movie was only okay. People are going to complain no matter what you do when you make a film about a true story, especially when the story is so fresh in our lives. Both The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty received tons of complaints, from both people opposed to and supporting the war. Even a film like Black Hawk Dawn is destined to alienate someone. But I believe that good art alienates, because the reality is some people don't want to face hard truths. In the end, American Sniper just felt like the Cliff's Notes to a story rather than a story itself.

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