I am on the other hand collecting my various thoughts on American Sniper and the world's reaction to it. Because frankly, I'm kinda tired by now. I'm tired of flag-waving cousin fuckers petitioning to have Kyle awarded the Medal of Honor (No. Hell no and fuck no, all right? The man's career is one of the most scrutinized of the war. He's earned the chest candy he has. If there was anything remotely worthy of the medal in his work, we'd have known years ago. A movie didn't change that). And I'm really, really tired of hearing every latte-chugging bitterness studies major who ever cried "Privilege," sniveling about how "dangerous" it is. Fuck you.
As far as my personal review, here goes...
(I'm gonna try to avoid spoilers here)
The advance press has had the usual moto-boners from the right and sniveling and handwringing from the left, fairly typical. But I think part of the conflict beyond the usual has been exactly how we're supposed to see Kyle.
Part of it, I think, is that American Sniper isn't what I would consider a War movie. It's instead a biopic of a warrior. Kyle's trade was in the hunting of human beings, something that draws argument as to if it even can be understood by those who don't experience it. But that was his trade and craft, of which he stands as a master to modern eyes.
One of the glaring holes we have in western societies is in how we treat our warriors. We seem to have our pigeonholes of "shining hero," "PTSD-scarred victim," and "sociopath," with no place, it seems, for quiet professionals or average joes and janes, let alone the compassionate or intellectual among their ranks.
Cooper plays Kyle in a way I've seen in many, many veterans of this war: compartmentalizing themselves between warriors and family men (even in the same person), gallows humor, vigorous sexual energy, and as tight self-control as one can muster.
The home-life scenes are nearly brutal in poignancy, seeing Taya's near-desperation to understand who her husband completely is butting up against his helplessness at finding any words that could possibly enlighten her. I think it's a tearful exchange that has taken place in dozens, if not hundreds of forms over the last decade and a half alone.
(As for whether I've managed to cross that line of understanding, being far more a wordwright than Kyle ever was? The Jury's still out. There are very few I implicitly trusted with both thought and experience at the time, fewer still that are still with us, and I have asked none of them if they truly understood.)
On the technical side, the parts of Iraq felt like Iraq, and even showed progression through the years (bunched up patrols and the tactical carry everywhere in 03-04 melting into up-armored humvees and MRAPS by 2007). Even little touches (Did everyone have a hooch door that closed with a 550-cord-and-water-bottle-suspension system?) kept it real.
It has a touch of contrivance with the use of 2 main villains (though not quite as bullshit as the Pashtun village of badass that was written into Lone Survivor). It also doesn't quite show enough of the impact that Kyle's work with other veterans had.
In other words, it's among the most powerful depictions of the wars I've seen yet. On par with Generation Kill, and ahead of Lone Survivor. Worth the Oscar nods it's received.
(For those curious, The Hurt Locker was excellent mood wrapped in a preposterous story, while Zero Dark Thirty was 2 hours of Jessica Chastain being impatient followed by the slowest and sloppiest raid ever)
So, the movie had a soft open on Christmas in a handful of cities, and started getting serious buzz. Then it broke records opening in January.
The Hollywood set shit themselves. Michael Moore and Seth Rogen were the most high-profile foot-in-mouth disease sufferers, while various pundits and bloggers screeched about how the film didn't show history right (read "how the narrative they've been raised on always told them it was") .but there's a more direct way to answer the question of why a film wasn't made that, "looked at the big picture" (translation: cry about how evil we were for GWOT) or "further examined the human cost of war" (translation: why was kyle shown as a troubled but ultimately consummate professional and family man instead of a broken, quivering victim like he should have been)?
The answer in Hollywood terms is:
Those films were already made. They universally sucked and made no money.
Content aside, look at the combined gross of Stop-loss, Green Zone, In the valley of elah, Home of the brave, and The Hurt locker. Don't forget to look at gross receipts vs budgets.
Now look at the same data for Lone Survivor and American Sniper. Act of Valor is its own animal, so ignore it for now.
Small data pools, to be sure. But showing today's warriors as people instead of yellow ribbon reasons, villains and victims is already looking a lot more profitable. The first set of projects had studio backing and A-list talent. They also had hand-wringing, confused victims of the Big Bad Bush, just as the latte left wanted. Their stories sucked and they failed as films, period fucking dot.
You don't get to blame it on flyover country either, kids. One of American Sniper's highest-grossing theaters is in NYC.
((Sidebar for a mild spoiler/plot hole: The single-action revolver Kyle draws on his wife in the final scene is a non-firing replica, and was in real life. This is why Kyle's blatant disregard for firearm safety, (holding a gun on his wife, walking around with his finger on the trigger, leaving a cocked pistol unsecured on a shelf,) makes any sense.
The fact that it's a replica is mentioned in the book, but not the movie.))
I found on a random Facebook feed a I found a rather hostile objection to how a woman and a child were depicted as trying to kill Americans with a hidden bomb.
I wonder where their rage was a decade ago, when AQI were actively recruiting all demographics for exactly that task? For a good long time, Al-Qaeda was the biggest equal opportunity employer in the country. Man, woman, child, elderly, pregnant, retarded, they didn't care. If you could carry a bag or wear a vest and mosey your way in the direction of some American troops, they had a place for you. Ground zero of a crater, to be specific.
(Not kidding about pregnant suicide bombers, btw. Boot camp buddy of mine was at a vehicle checkpoint hit by one. They found out she really was pregnant because a 6-month-gestated fetus was one of the larger pieces of the bomber left intact.)
But none of that has mattered to the Hollywood set. The cries of racism went on, despite Kyle's own interpreter calling bullshit. While moviegoers in Baghdad seemed to on the whole enjoy it, the screaming went on that it was "rewriting history."
Yes, kid, it was being rewritten. And not in the narrative you approve of. Tough shit. If you'd paid attention you might have learned something.
Changes to the story and characters were nothing that wouldn't happen in any biopic adaptation. Events happen close to each other instead of years apart. Multiple similar people wind up represented by a single character.
Long story short (and I'm talking to you, Lindy West), Chris referred to the Iraqis as savages because a good chunk of them behaved that way.
"Bare minimum, (Kyle) was a racist who took pleasure in dehumanizing and killing brown people."
'Brown people?" Fucking really? Depressingly bigoted of her. Sadly unsurprising. Amy Nicholson was about as bad in her screed on Lone Survivor last year. Not a godsdamn one of em can be bothered to tell the difference between a Shia and a Sikh, but trigger pullers like me are the asshole here?
I'll admit recently to wondering if there are those of my acquaintance who think me "hate-filled," or that I have, "taken pleasure in dehumanizing and killing brown people?"
And if so, however do they stand to be in the same room? or type in the same corner of the net? Morbid curiosity?
It's a fascinatingly unknown place, not only of psychology, but of etiquette.
At times, I am tempted to say to such folk, "fuck off. Ask me not for direction nor duration. Simply orient as you see fit and fuck off beyond what horizon you approach."
But today, with Dr. King quotes flying about, what suits my own thoughts is more, "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
Americans treat their heroes funny. We only really have two kinds. We weren't even a country when the idea of a hero being the result of a Gods' inability to keep their dick in their chiton became old-fashioned. We were formed with the idea of "paragon of virtue" being the definition of a hero. And it's had a good long run. Sir Galahad to Captain America. And then things changed. Our heroes became harder. Uglier. Antiheroes more often than not. And if anyone looked like the old-school paragon heroes, it's just because we hadn't found their ugly yet. People stopped seeing heroes as something to emulate, and started seeing them as suspicious for having their flaws hidden instead of hanging out.
We don't look for heroes anymore. We look for hero flaws.
My personal definition of a hero is someone who risks themselves for the sake of those they have no particular loyalty to.
I served with quite a few heroes. Most would not consider themselves such. One or two would try to punch me if they heard me call them so. They are heroes still.
I wear on my wrist the name of a man who fought and died in ways Leonidas himself would envy. He was well read, with a passion for history and chess. He was also a two-fisted, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed skirt chaser who'd been kicked out of half the titty bars between I-95 and the Carolina coastline. He was still a hero. Maybe despite that. Maybe because of it.
Ultimately, that is what assclowns of West's ilk have failed to understand. That heroes truly exist. They do not have to check off all the right boxes or use the proper euphemisms to be so. Warts and all makes them heroes still.
They fail to understand that us in uniform are not uniform in our minds. We are more than heroes, villains and victims. We are vast in our views and thoughts, bound by our experiences, not ideology. We are human. Deeply, passionately, terrifyingly human.
That is what West and her ilk fear: that we are entirely human, perhaps even great humans, who think and act so differently we might have come from Mars.
How terrifying that must be for her.
After all, what if we're right?