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'American Sniper' -
A Review By John Barbour

By John Barbour

Clint Eastwood is now by far a much better Director than he is an actor. In the last ten years two of his films rank amongst America's best, 'Grand Tourino' and the under-rated, excellent 'Hereafter.'

In 'American Sniper.' he has kept Directing until he got it wrong. As a film, it fires blanks. As a video game and recruitment poster it is right on target. As a piece of cinematic storytelling, it has absolutely the clumsiest, sloppiest, most gutless ending I have ever seen in a movie.

In order for a film or any story to work, it has to have characters,  people, that you care about or identify with or root for. It's an edict as old as David and Goliath. An outstanding Director and Writer can suck you in to caring and liking and cheering for
people whom in real life you might abhor. There's no better example of this than 'The Godfather.' In this classic, probably the second best movie to come out of Hollywood since 'Citizen Kane,' Director Francis Coppola and Writer Mario Puzzo weave a tale and paint pictures that have you passionately embracing a Mafia family of gangsters and killers, except, in the beginning, Pacino's character.

I had no initial interest in seeing this film. Having seen every Bogart and Cagney and Eddie G. Robinson gangster movie to come out of Warners during the 30's and 40's, by the time the 70's, with Viet Nam and Civil Rights on everybody's mind, I had no desire  whatsoever to revisit overcooked and overdone crooked Italians from the Truman era. But I had to. It was my job. I was a film-critic.

Within minutes of 'The Godfather' I was no longer a film critic. I was a fan. I've now seen it a dozen times. That's what good story-telling is all about.

On the other hand, 'American Sniper' turned me from an Eastwood fan, back into a critic. This is the perfect film to show at film schools on how not to tell a story.

I should tell you honestly,  I also had little desire, excerpt for my liking of most of Eastwood's work, to see  this film. If, at first, I didn't want to see fictitious gangsters in 'The Godfather,' I was repulsed by thought of seeing someone depicted as a hero in a fake war which Bush and Cheney and Rice and Collin Powell all lied us into. I mean, these are real gangsters. Not one word of this truth is uttered in the entire two tiresome hours of video game target practice and carnage.

In fairness to Bradley Cooper and the actress who played his wife, they were compelling. But you notice I said 'played;' and that's what it was. It was 'play acting.' We saw as a kid how Chris Kyle, whose book the film is based on, might be beaten with a belt if he wasn't tough, and a good shot and a good hunter. I was hoping Clint would somehow turn me into a fan by revealing what would compel someone, who didn't have to, who had a young family, why he'd return four times to a ravaged Iraq to shoot from ambush 180 people. Unless that's what he loved to do. Kill people. A legalized, uniformed serial killer.Who can love or even like someone like that? You know who can? The people who voted for Bush. Who else? But Clint failed.

There's a brief attempt to try to make him appear human when a young boy picks up a grenade launcher dropped by an Iraqui whose head Kyle has just blown off. The launcher is heavy as he tries clumsily to raise and fire it. The kid is in Kyle's scope, as he mumbles to himself, 'Drop it,kid. drop it.' Which the boy does. That's it. It reveals nothing. It is meaningless. As is this movie. As was the war.

The only remote reference to this is when a fellow Seal asks him if he's ever wondered why we're here? Again, That's it. Nada. Nothing relevant. And the reason Eastwood doesn't have Kyle give his buddy a good reason is because Eastwood couldn't think of one. Neither could Bush or Cheney. That we were there was enough. Now we're there we've got to support the troops!

And that is the flimsy, stupid answer Eastwood puts in Kyle's mouth when he responds, saying, 'We've got to kill these savages here. Do you want them in San Diego?'

Does anyone, anyone in America actually believe that Iraquis, who had nothing to do with 911, with no Air Force, no Army, no Navy are going to invade San Diego?  How? By disguising themselves as Mexicans and sneaking across the border?

And calling them 'savages' when they are defending their land and families from the real terrorists, as Martin Luther King said loudly, us. Spelled with a U.S! It's what what we called Indians when we stole their land. Or 'gooks,' what we called Vietnamese when we wanted that other fake war escalated..

The real Chris Kyle was found by a jury to be a liar. Fellow SEAL Jesse Ventura was awarded nearly two million dollars when Kyle claimed he punched the former Minnesota governor out. Researchers have found dozens of other tall tales in his writing. One that appears to have made its way into the film is one of the movies high points, for Eastwood anyway! For months an Iraqui sniper every bit as proficient as Kyle, has been popping off American engineers and contractors trying to rebuild the country. (That in itself is laughable.) So, like one of Clint's old spaghetti Westerns, it is now the black hat versus the white hat. And, wouldn't you know it, Clint's wardrobe man puts the villain in black, with a beard to match.

After Blackie pops off another one of our good guys, Kyle spots him through his high powered scope. Over a mile away. And gets him from that distance right through the left eye. And get this colossal cinematic idiocy...With a slow motion bullet!

Some in the audience cheered. Like kids at a Roadrunner cartoon. It pleases the kind of audience that Shakespeare, in Hamlet, called the 'Groundlings!' Even atheists will be compelled to say, 'God save us from these idiots!'

When Kyle finally returns to his family, and almost kills his own dog after a brief flashback, he ends up at a VA hospital. The doctor asks if he has any regrets in killing 180 people. He says, 'No, I would have killed more to save our guys!'

The doctor then says there are soldiers in the hospital who still need saving.  So, after Clint shows us real soldiers with real limbs lost, Kykle befriends some, and takes them to the gun range. For therapy.

And this is where the movie ends. In one of the greatest, clumsiest, most cowardly collapses in story-telling one -o -one. As Kyle climbs into his truck with what looks like a tense young man, and the wife watching suspiciously from the doorway, the screen goes black.  On this black screen up pops the information that Chris Kyle was shot by a veteran he was trying to help.

It gets even worse..

The bible, or some other good book, said, 'Those who live by the sword, die by the sword!'  Kyle lived by the bullet, and we should have seen him die by the bullet. In the head. Then we should have seen the disturbed vet then blow his own brains out. Then we should have gone to black. And stayed there!!! The audience would have been stunned. And speechless. And then perhaps the movie would have finally made a point. Made some kind of sense.

Instead, after the sentence on the screen, the credits roll and under them Clint shows newsreel footage of the long elaborate military funeral. It turned from a moving picture to a recruitment poster.

Chris Kyle may have truly done some heroic things in Iraq to save some of his buddies. As did thousands of others. But that does not a hero make.

You know who was a military hero, though, an American hero? Pat Tillman. After 9/11 Pat immediately gave up a lucrative successful career in there NFL, and believing Bush, enlisted to get 'the bad guys' in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, it didn't take him long to realize, the bad guys weren't in Kabul. They were in Washington. He now realized he had to go back and fight them. He was in contact with leaders of the anti-war movement here, and planning  to join them when he was shot and killed. Probably by us!

Instead of making a movie about a soldier who kills 180 people, why not make a movie about a soldier who is trying to save thousands.

Do you think Clint Eastwood would have the balls, or the convictions or the smarts to make a movie about Pat Tillman?

I doubt it!


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