Saturday, February 28, 2015

American Sniper (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

American Sniper

The much talked about "American Sniper" by Clint Eastwood has arrived at The Tropic.

Although controversial, the film is unsurpassed and near virtuosic in showing the man / soldier Chris Kyle as a young boy infatuated by the cowboy way, until he transforms into the driven and devoted Navy SEAL (played with gripping detail by Bradley Cooper), the most "lethal" sniper in US military history with over a hundred fifty kills.

Kyle begins in Texas attending rodeos. This passage is reminiscent of "Dallas Buyers Club" in its naturalistic detail and its intense view of a young man with his horse. We also see Kyle as a boy as his dad (Ben Reed) talks to him about the danger of being a wolf, i.e., an aggressive bully. The next shot of Kyle is of a man, half shaded by the shield of his hat: a superhero --- The White Knight.

Eastwood employs the pop art of a cowboy together with beautiful cinematography rich in shadow and sun to portray a small town realm where things should and usually do go Right. The imagery quotes current cinema while also touching upon Clint Eastwood's western legacy.

When a U.S. Embassy is attacked in 1998, Kyle goes to enlist and begins SEAL training. A resolved and pragmatic Kyle endures hostile badgering and great discomfort in camp. As if made of stainless steel, he powers through, one enemy, one goal in mind. Kyle becomes a skilled rifleman. In the film, the act is akin to archery and near an art, and this is the controversy.

The pathos and nerve of this story is that it unfolds seamlessly as a fable of one man who is driven to protect and defend at all cost. The music score itself is a force in the film as sweeping violins mutate into the harsh grating tones of a sharp synthesizer or sonic guillotine. Like Hitchcock, Eastwood is giving a nod to his audience hinting at his "might makes right" persona, while illustrating this hostile world.

Above everything, we are shown Kyle as he is, quite and almost passive in public, yet with the ability to quip to the people he knows. At times, he is playful and charming and he moves with an unassuming, yet fluid gait. His wife Taya (Sienna Miller) struggles with needing him at home and knowing what he must do as Chris Kyle.

Though at times the villainous  Iraqis seem out of a graphic novel, as when his enemy, The Sniper Mustafa (Sammy Sheik),  assembles his gun, consumed by his duty to protect his side. But Chris Kyle is no supernatural person, seeped in magic light. His actions are genuine; he knows he has a talent as a sniper but he takes no hungering pleasure in killing.

It is Eastwood's episodic camera that elevates and puts this worthy person into the warm shade of a Norman Rockwell at the start. Troubling it is to see that Kyle wants to return to combat again, lest we forget that his utmost duty is to his fellow soldier.

Eastwood gives his protagonist the note of a Tall Tale in one scene as Kyle surprises Taya with a toy gun which deftly recalls Eastwood's past.

Bradley Cooper is uncanny in this stand-alone role as he fills Chris Kyle with verve, self-deprecation and more than a bit of fear. Taya may think that the man she loves is a stranger sitting alone with an odd, noisy but empty TV and almost striking a dog, but Kyle's story has resonated with the public.  Except for the flat tones that the Iraqis are given in the film, the day to day life of this man driven in his service is clearly portrayed.

No matter what your view is of the Gulf War, Kyle's life deserves to be told and above all else this film's awareness of PTSD is well handled and given no handwringing or sentimentality.

The film is a mirror. Pacifists might see it  lean as an anti-war meditation while vets may see it as a solid honor to heroes, a reckoning, and a record of what did and what is still happening.

"American Sniper" is all these things.

In addition to being a reflection, the positive thing in this bold and graphic tale is that it may well bridge a necessary gap between servicemen and civilians.

A hero story this is and rightly so, yet with  terror as well as tribute.

Compellingly, too, "American Sniper" is just as much about Eastwood and his symbols as it is about the earthy and honest Chris Kyle.

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